Tips for Effective Advocacy

fullsizeoutput_9I’m a huge fan of DPAC and the work being done to highlight the policy environment facing people living with Type 1 Diabetes. DPAC has created an amazing resource where you can quickly and easily see what is happening, how supportive your elected official is, and how to engage in the legislative process.

So when DPAC asked me to provide some thoughts about what it was like to be lobbied as Congressional staff, I jumped at the chance to help. I spent nearly ten years working on Capitol Hill as congressional staff. I’ve met with thousands of people and helped elected officials navigate the hundreds of decisions they have to make every day.

I also have Type 1 diabetes. And I am the father of a daughter with Type 1 diabetes. So I have a vested interest in seeing all of us engage with congress to improve the lives of people living with T1D.

You already know the basics of lobbying as a T1D advocate (be prepared, tell your story, etc.) but I wanted to add my thoughts about how to take the extra step to make your meeting stand out from the crowd.

The View From the Other Side of the Desk

Members of Congress have dozens of meetings every day. They have to prepare materials, respond to media inquiries, be prepared to vote in committees and on the floor of the House or Senate, liaise with their party leadership or committee leadership, conduct outreach back to interested parties in their district and stay apprised of pretty much everything that’s in the news.

Not to mention pushing their own legislation and priorities and focusing on their next election.

Because of this, meetings and issues tend to get treated in a triage manner. And any excuse to push off a decision or work simply creates more space and time for issues that are immediate and pressing. Prepping for a legislative markup in committee, a vote on the floor today or a media interview in the afternoon will take the primary focus of the member of congress and their staff.

Your trick as a diabetes advocate is to make your asks at the right time, and if the timing isn’t quite right, to create some urgency or build a relationship that allows you to make the ask again in the future.

Urgency is Your Friend

Because of this, consider the following two asks:

“We’re asking you to support HR 1 because it will improve the lives of people impacted by Type 1 Diabetes. Will you cosponsor the bill?”

We’re asking you to cosponsor HR 1 this week to show leadership there is bipartisan support to bring this bill to the floor for a vote. People with Type 1 Diabetes will benefit from this bill and we need your support this week to get a vote.”

Urgency wins every time.

Your Story Counts – But the Ask is Everything

Your story is the reason you meet with a member of congress. Telling them what life with Type 1 Diabetes is like, describing your diabetes management and the cost of living with the disease makes your case. But a member of congress can’t act on your story alone. You need to give them something to do.

DPAC has up to date information on all the legislation impacting people living with diabetes. When you meet with a member of congress, tell your story, but be sure to make the ask for a specific action (or more) to have a policy impact.

Think of your story and your ask as mutually supportive things. Your story doesn’t have its full impact without an actionable step, and your ask needs a story to define its importance.

Build A Crowd

Do you know what elected officials love? A friendly audience to talk to. The single best lobbying advice I’ve ever heard was simply to build a crowd and let a politician stand in front of it. This is true for diabetes lobbying too.

Your story and a focused ask will go a long way to success, but to really seal the deal, think about helping spread the word for the elected official about their support. For example:

“I’m part of an online community that helps provide support for people living with Type 1 diabetes. We have about 1,000 FaceBook members. I’m planning to post a recap of this visit and let people know how this meeting went. I’d love to report that you have cosponsored HR 1.”

“I’m planning to meet with a reporter from the Hometown Daily Herald to let them know about my visit with you and the policies we’re trying to impact for people living with diabetes. May I tell them that you cosponsored HR 1?”

“We’re live-tweeting our DC meetings this week to our community. If you wanted to tweet your support for HR1, we can help retweet it to dozens of interested parties throughout the state.”

Stay Connected on the Issues

By engaging members of congress on diabetes policy, you get to keep them accountable. Follow up after your meeting with a thank you note or the public recognition you promised. But more than that, keep emailing as new issues and items come to the table.

Follow DPAC (and support their work) so you know that when a call to action goes out for a specific issue (Medicare coverage for CGMs!) you already have a relationship with a specific member of congress and/or their staff. You can quickly re-engage and make the case.

Thank You

On behalf of my family and friends, thank you for your willingness to be a leader and an advocate for people living with diabetes. We’ve collectively accomplished a lot over the past twenty years on the basis of discrimination and health access, but there are so many funding, policy and regulatory challenges ahead and your advocacy work is a critical part in our shared future. I appreciate the chance to be a part of your team!


About Jake

fullsizeoutput_1789Jake Johnston is the President of the Johnston Group, a federal lobbying firm based in Seattle, Washington and the founder of ConnecT1D, a non-profit providing social and emotional support to people impacted by Type 1 Diabetes. He lives in Seattle, works in Seattle and Washington, D.C. and leaves his CGM on longer than he ought to.