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In a Universe of Uncertainty, Flexibility Wins

The opening line of a New York Times article from December 20, 1998 (the day after President Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives) reads “the only thing certain now is uncertainty.”  While those words were written 26 years ago, they are equally true today. Uncertainty around elections, international conflicts, terrorism, new policy fads, intra-party conflicts, and the pandemic (just to name a few) have dramatically adjusted the course of policy making. Planning amid uncertainty is difficult, but necessary. Here are a few best practices for advocates having to navigate through the complexities of uncertainty: 

Do Not Stay Too Loyal to Your Plan: There is nothing more important than building a sophisticated strategy before any advocacy campaign, but realities on the ground change and it is important to be able to adjust accordingly. When new issues or hurdles emerge, those who refuse to move away from their initial strategy have a significant disadvantage and are operating based on a plan that depends on a different landscape.

Focus on the Policy, Not the Delivery Method: Uncertainty always exists around whether large legislative packages might move and when they will move – both of which are outside of what any advocacy campaign can control. Developing a process to best position legislation regardless of which package it will be added to is the best use of time and resources.

Create Internal Early Warning Systems: Getting ahead of issues or problems can be a competitive advantage in the advocacy space and can also ensure the fallout from uncertainty is somewhat mitigated.  Identifying potential problematic scenarios before they occur will help to have a plan in place if (or when) issues emerge.

Embrace the Uncertainty:  Uncertainty is the world we live in and it should be factored into any plan, strategy, or campaign being implemented. Flexibility will not eliminate the headache uncertainty brings, but it will allow for adjustments that will help keep issues on track. 

One of the biggest risks in DC is uncertainty. Everything from the prolonged Speaker vote to the Russian invasion of Ukraine creates more uncertainty, which leads to policy risk. Finding ways to mitigate uncertainty through flexibility, planning, and focusing on what can ben controlled certainly helps, but uncertainty will be driving DC for the foreseeable future.


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