Before attempting to advocate for a change, state associations need to assess the potential for a successful outcome. State associations need to determine the state's potential for success which includes the following factors:
Once the state association leadership has determined that there is potential for change, it is important for the leaders and other interested members to gather together and decide what they wish to accomplish. The state association, lobbyist, constituent members, and consumers all have essential and integral roles to play in any state advocacy effort. All parties need to work together to accomplish the goal.
Group Leader: A leader needs to be identified who will serve not only as the spokesperson for the group but will also be responsible for keeping the membership informed and actively involved. In the targeted states, ASHA and the state association leadership identified a member of the group to serve as the coordinator. This individual typically communicated with the ASHA liaison on a regular basis, kept the executive board and membership informed of the groups activities and progress, and was also responsible for activating the grassroots network.
Grassroots Coordinator: The grassroots coordinator is responsible for developing and maintaining an active list of members from across the state that are willing and able to contact legislators or other decision maker groups on a moment's notice. If the state association does not have an up-to-date e-mail list of the membership, than one will need to be developed including each member's address and legislative district. This allows the group leader and grassroots coordinator to activate the grassroots network quickly and efficiently.
Legislative liaison/lobbyist: The legislative liaison may be the state association's lobbyist or committee member whose job it is to keep the members informed of legislative or regulatory activity, develop legislative language for proposed bills, and most importantly to track and inform the committee when membership involvement is needed. It is also important for the state's lobbyist to convey to the membership how the legislative process works in the state.
Consumer Coordinator: The consumer coordinator identifies and gathers a list of consumers willing to assist state association efforts.
A key component to developing a successful state advocacy program is focusing on the development of an organized plan. Several factors need to be addressed when developing a plan of action, include:
A number of resources have been developed to assist state associations with legislative or regulatory activities. National data has been collected and maintained from a variety of sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the sPENSE study, and annual Reports to Congress. ASHA also collects periodic survey data from its school-based members through the ASHA Schools Survey. Data from ASHA's National Outcomes Measurement System (NOMS) has been successfully used by states to demonstrate teacher and parent perceptions of the success of services rendered by school-based SLPs with CCC to children receiving SLP services. Assembling state data, including members and consumer survey information, is necessary for developing talking points and presentations for decision makers.
As the committee begins to develop its plan of activities the group must be mindful of the key individuals or groups that will need to be informed and included in discussions about the issue, as well as the process required to effect change. While working with one state, our team and the state committee realized that while a legislative bill needed to pass and be signed by the Governor before a change could be realized, only one or two key legislators needed to be convinced before the bill would pass. In another state, we needed to obtain the support of the State Board of Education members in order to obtain the desired change. Equally important is the process that the state utilizes to enact change. In one of the targeted states, for example, in order to pass salary supplement legislation, a financial impact statement needed to be developed and included with the bill. Our committee discovered that it was important that our lobbyist have the correct financial statement to submit to the state finance department in order to get the bill passed. In another state, a separate appropriations bill needed to pass in order to get a salary supplement law funded. In each instance, it was important for the committee to identify the key decision makers and to understand the legislative/regulatory process for change.
Developing factual materials is an important aspect of any plan. It involves preparing written or oral materials for testimony, or presentations which include the major point of the proposal, identification of the issue, the change that is needed, supporting facts and data. Oral and written statements allow for an "on the record" opportunity for the state association to present its facts and views. It also helps the committee develop letters or fact sheets for constituents and consumers to present to decision makers. Prepared talking points and fact sheets should be short and concise including only relevant data and supportive information.
Developing a grassroots network involves organizing a constituent member data base, matching members with key legislators or policy makers, developing a communication system to quickly mobilize members into action and producing advocacy materials for members to use when contacting decision makers. Mobilizing a grassroots community is vital for any successful advocacy campaign. It not only increases the association's visibility but also encourages members to become actively involved in the association's effort. In a legislative campaign, state senators and representatives are greatly influenced by the people who can vote for them. Those members who take the time to make a visit, phone call, send an e-mail or letter, are the political elite that drive public policy.
The final and perhaps most important step in developing an action plan is to create an activity calendar with all of the steps required to achieve the goal, along with timelines and persons responsible for overseeing the completion of the activity identified.
Our experience in the targeted states has demonstrated that a successful advocacy effort requires certain key ingredients, including:
Effecting change also necessitates a sustained effort, persistence, and patience. A state must establish realistic goals and a time frame for achieving those goals. A minimum of a 2-3 year commitment will be necessary to achieve legislative or regulatory success. The first year may require educating committee members, state association leaders and members, the lobbyist, and key decision makers in the state about the issue. In subsequent years the committee should focus on establishing key relationships, building credibility, and demonstrating commitment to the issue. The reward for patience and persistence not only is the realization of the goal but an active supportive membership and legislative and regulatory partners who seek assistance and guidance on issues that effect the membership in years to come.
The following resources are available from ASHA to assist states and local districts wishing to advocate for change: