Ever think elected officials don’t know anything?
When it comes to the issues that affect EMS, you might be right. But if you’re looking for someone to blame, start by taking a look in the mirror.
“We have a responsibility to keep our elected officials informed,” said Jim Judge, EMT-P, BA, CEM and chair of the NAEMT Advocacy Committee, during a Thursday morning presentation at EMS World Expo 2012 in New Orleans.
The session, “The Art of Advocacy: How to Influence Your Elected Officials,” took EMS providers in attendance through the process of developing an advocacy strategy and delivering a specific message to local, state and national leaders. Judge, who works on the annual EMS on the Hill program with NAEMT, said constituent contacts really do have an influence on elected officials; EMS providers just need to be proactive about reaching out to their lawmakers.
Many providers might feel uncomfortable with the idea of advocacy—where do you start, where can you get help, “I’m not an expert.”
But the process is actually a lot easier than you think, Judge said. Here are six steps to building an effective advocacy program.
- Build your advocacy strategy. Identify the issue—is it local, state or federal; legislative or administrative; who can best address the issue? Determine your area of need or concern, and then learn everything you can about the issue, from every angle. Develop a clear and succinct request, supported by evidence, statistics and reports. And set goals—what’s your desired outcome and are there any acceptable alternatives to that outcome?
- Craft your message. Clearly and specifically state your request—what do you want lawmakers to do? Provide sound rationale for why lawmakers should address this issue. Explain the implications to their constituents. And if the request will cost money, explain the costs and how you expect it to be funded. Requests should concisely state all of the above in one page, which you can leave behind with lawmakers or their staff.
- Polish your message. Once you’ve crafted your message, fine tune it and know it front to back. Make sure it’s clear, concise, compelling and—above all—personal.
- Connect with your leaders. You should know who your government leaders are, and you should make sure they know who you are. Let them know how you can help them (e.g., as a local resource on other issues affecting emergency medicine) and explain how they can help you.
- Communicate your request. Determine the groups or individuals who you want to speak with and coordinate the request to pull in as many other stakeholders as possible. And make sure to include anyone else who could affect the outcome of the request, such as legislative staff. Communications can be written or verbal, but a combination of the two is most effective, and nothing replaces the value of face-to-face visits.
- Build coalitions. Garner support within your agency and with neighboring agencies. If your request is to state leaders, enlist the support of your state EMS association. Keep your coalition informed of the process along the way and look for other organizations with a common interest with which you can form more formal coalitions.
Anyone still unsure where to begin should consult NAEMT’s Capwiz online legislative service. You don’t need to be a NAEMT member to use Capwiz, a powerful free portal that contains information on EMS-specific federal legislation, elected officials and candidates for office, and media contacts, as well as offering specific grassroots campaign alerts. You can even register vote through Capwiz.