LOCAL POLICY & COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
High Impact Strategies for Influencing Local Policy
Prioritizing community engagement to secure localized long-term solutions.
Engaging in policy at the local level is a distinctive undertaking. Local policy spaces typically have different dynamics from the policy landscape at the state and federal level, yet the fundamentals of local policy development remain the same. This includes research, lobbying and community engagement. With the intent of applying to larger populations, state and federal policy takes on a broader lens. What separates local policy making from state and federal work is its close proximity to the unique reality of the local community. To connect with community members, your team must take a localized approach to engagement. We’ve identified three high impact strategies to win support from local stakeholders.
Build Community & Earn Buy-In From Grassroots Stakeholders
Who Are Grassroots Stakeholders?
Grassroots stakeholders are your most important asset. On the local level, support from grassroots stakeholders can make or break your policy initiative. Grassroots stakeholders include: Local residents, voters, community organizations and neighborhood groups. On the local level, community building remains crucial to earning buy-in for policy change. Local policy changes have a direct impact on residents, one that usually feels personal. Thus, residents are more likely to want to engage in local policy issues because they feel less abstract and more grounded in day-to-day life.
When developing and advocating for local policy proposals, your team should dedicate resources to involving community leaders and local experts on your issue.
Holding Space For Community Members
As part of your advocacy strategy, your team should identify the core groups you want to engage. This includes communities affected most by your policy, local communities with significant political influence and groups likely to pose opposition.
Remember that at the local level, stakeholders include all community members, and not just registered voters. Historically, non-voting populations, such as students under the age of 18, often organize around local policy issues and influence decision-making.
According to Change Lab Solutions, “partnerships between community institutions are often best situated to create long-lasting solutions.” Through community engagement, your team earns trust and support to create and sustain partnerships that are key to your policy goals.
Inviting Experts To The Table
When it comes to local policy experts refer to both professional and lived experience. Any issue area your team works on naturally involves community members with an intimate understanding of the problems at hand. Whether scientists, researchers, local business owners or community leaders, your team must consult local experts with a deep understanding of your chosen issue. They’ll provide unmatched expertise. In many cases, their support for your policy adds valuable influence.
A 2016 study from MEAM details the importance of sourcing community expertise: “Working to influence [local] policy can empower people experiencing multiple needs, and help ensure policy work is grounded in their experience.”
Weaving Relevant Feedback Into Your Policy
During the community building process, your team will receive a steady stream of feedback on your policy proposal. Much of it will be constructive. It’s up to your team to use the best judgement to decide what changes to make. Reflect on how implementing some of these suggestions would impact the results of your policy’s implementation. Does the change move your community closer or further away from the overall goal? Perhaps the new insights even shift what your goal looks like, giving you a better understanding of the challenge at hand.
Whatever choices your team makes, prepare to justify each of them to the public. Your goal is to craft policy in the best interest of the community you aim to serve.
Don’t Rely On National Discourse: Craft Your Own
Often, local policy won’t fit neatly into a larger national policy issue. Thus, you may not have existing talking points to fall back on. Policy issues like zoning laws or expanding public transportation are tailored to a local area’s specific dynamics. While it may be important for your team to keep a finger on the pulse of what is going on nationally, or statewide — you’ll also want to engage in localized discourse on the issues that hand.
3 Main Elements of Local Policy Discourse
- Communities Affected: Who most needs the solution your policy proposes? How can your team amplify their voices and draw empathy from the larger community?
- Resource Allocation: What resources do you need to implement your policy? On whom does the responsibility of funding fall? How can you effectively communicate this to the public?
- Citywide Prosperity: How does your proposed policy impact your city, town or county as a whole?
In general, using plain language remains the most effective style of communication when addressing policy at a local level. Remember this as your team develops talking points and messaging strategy to advocate for your policy.
Translate Community Support To Policymakers
Once your team has stakeholder support for your policy proposal, take time to share your traction with policymakers. Depending on your local power structures, policymakers can range from the mayor, town or city council members, appointed committees for local governance, city government officials or county commissioners.
Local policymakers will look to make sure your policy change meets three core standards: Feasibility, funding and community support. As your team engages with local stakeholders, collect data to demonstrate local support for your policy. If policymakers know a proposal is popular in advance, they are more likely to fast-track the process of introducing it to a voting body or executive committee.
Engaging in local policy work arguably remains the most community oriented process among each level of government. Prioritizing community engagement and embracing localized needs will set your team up for success.
Electo Analytics is a public affairs software startup based in Washington D.C. At Electo, we democratize information to empower policy teams to work faster and reach higher.