Four Ways to Engage Policymakers During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Wright April 6, 2020 By: Matthew Wright and Anthony Shop

Your members can’t visit Congress in person during the spring fly-in season this year, but you can still keep your advocacy efforts alive in an age of social distancing. Here are four strategies to keep your public policy work on track.

Many associations and trade groups, perhaps yours, conduct advocacy fly-in events in the spring. In-person meetings with members of Congress and their staffs are critical for advancing policy—research consistently shows this is the most influential type of advocacy contact.

But in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and “social distancing” restrictions, associations and trade groups have canceled or postponed advocacy fly-ins. Now they are scrambling to identify ways to engage would-be fly-in attendees from wherever they reside.

Physical distancing to prevent the spread of a virus shouldn’t block your supporters from civic participation, because now more than ever associations and trade groups need constituent engagement to promote their policy agendas. There are a number of ways to bridge physical distance through social connectivity.

Start simple. Phone calls, emails, and tweets directed to lawmakers remain effective lines of communication. These messages help lawmakers and their staffs learn more about constituent priorities and take those into account for policymaking. Phone calls can be directed to lawmakers’ in-district or Capitol offices during normal business hours, while constituents can send emails and tweets at any time.

The alternative face-to-face meeting. In recent weeks, more lawmakers and their staffs have turned to teleconference platforms, such as Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangout, to meet with constituent stakeholders. Schedule a teleconference much like you would an in-person meeting. Some offices may prefer using their own teleconference platforms, while others may defer to yours. You may even be able to include advocates who would not have been able to visit Washington, DC, in the first place.

When teleconferencing isn’t possible, or to further complement those meetings, encourage participants to leverage video tools to record advocacy messages and share them with lawmakers.

Re-create the fly-in experience virtually. In lieu of an in-person fly-in, consider a virtual fly-in event to educate, train, and activate your advocates from wherever they are. Start by conducting a webinar for your participants, much like an in-person session during which you would educate them on the policy issues and train them on how to authentically convey messages to lawmakers.

Schedule teleconference meetings for your participants to connect with their lawmakers. When teleconferencing isn’t possible, or to further complement those meetings, encourage participants to leverage video tools, such as Countable and Storyvine, to record advocacy messages and share them with lawmakers. These videos also can be repurposed to share on social media to further increase awareness on the policy issue and engage stakeholders in other social networks to support your cause.

Try something new. Now is the time to get creative. The Association for Accessible Medicines recently launched an Instagram filter experience to educate policymakers about the 10th anniversary of biosimilars, which are biologic medical products highly similar to other already-approved medicines. Even after in-person meetings resume in Washington, associations and trade groups will have to step up their game to cut through the noise in this fast-paced world.

The unprecedented events we are living through have touched us all, personally and professionally. Although it feels discouraging to cancel your fly-in, now is the time to regroup and rise to the occasion. Congress needs to hear from your advocates before enacting public policies that will dramatically affect our lives in the short and long term.

Matthew Wright

Matthew Wright is advocacy and outreach director for the Children’s Hospital Association and executive vice president of The Grassroots Professional Network in Washington, DC.

Anthony Shop

Anthony Shop is chairman of the National Digital Roundtable and cofounder of Social Driver in Washington, DC.