The policy ecosystem can get a bit crowded as new policy trends emerge and welcome an onslaught of organizations seeking to influence the outcome, especially before policymakers get distracted and move on to something else. It is often a short window in a small room with a sharp-elbowed crowd that quickly gets noisy. It is much different than the more typical 3-4 year advocacy campaign that slowly ramps up as an issue evolves. Nonetheless, when Congress or the Administration have these episodic policy priorities (i.e., artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, pandemic funding, tax reform, etc.), it is important to act quickly and do so in a manner that brings impact to the important - albeit loud - discussion.
Here are five suggestions on navigating a crowded policy space within a short time:
Develop a Strategy: Regardless of whether you are focused on a long-term issue or one that emerges overnight, moving without a strategy is often worse than not moving at all. Considering a variety of scenarios within your strategy – including one that highlights the need to compete with many others for attention in a short timeframe – is extremely important. Having a strategy will reduce the amount of time needed to activate advocacy resources and think through what to do next.
Identify Policy Elevation Early: This may take a bit of wargaming, but it is important to identify the emerging policy issue focus as early as possible or you may miss your moment. Knowing that policy attention often follows press coverage, monitoring the press is a good place to start. If the press pays a lot of attention to an issue, policymakers will too. Similarly, if other well-branded organizations with influence begin talking about the issue (in support or against), it is a good indicator that policy consideration could follow soon. Watch those trends carefully and move forward with your strategy early.
Focus on Champions First: When an issue emerges, a few key policymakers will take a leadership role (usually those who have been active on the issue previously). They are, without question, your easiest path to success when time is limited and crowds are gathering. Champions have more interest in being helpful and will be better positioned to impact and influence the policy solution.
Provide a Unique Perspective: If you are just another organization calling for crypto regulation when everyone is focused on crypto regulation, your message will be lost quickly in the crowd. What specifically needs to be done and what are the opportunity costs of specific provisions being included or not. In these situations, there is not enough time for broad ‘talking point” type conversations. Thus, it is critical to identify what is important with specificity in order to separate your organization from the crowd.
Be a Resource: There is no better advocacy tool in a crowded policy space (or any policy space) than becoming a resource to policymakers. When time is limited and stakes are high, policymakers need expertise – not fancy infographics. If your organization can provide a level of expertise that can inform policymakers and ensure they understand the full picture -- go that route before any other and your organization will be well-positioned.
When issues suddenly emerge in the policy ecosystem, it is easy to get lost trying to navigate such a crowded space. The more planning you do, the better. So, consider these situations as opportunities to be a bit more strategic and focused on unique information that policymakers need and avoid the pressures of the bigger crowd to merely speak broadly on a topic.