by Joseph W. Gravel, Jr, MD and Hope Wittenberg, MA
Wikipedia defines advocacy as “an activity by an individual or group which aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions.” This blog will focus on federal legislative advocacy, but you can use the very same skills in state or local legislatures, your home institution, or advocating for patients in the course of your work.
# 1: Begin With the End in Mind
Identify what change you want, how to make it happen, and who can make it happen. For example, is the issue a federal law that needs changing? Which committees have jurisdiction over that issue? Who sits on that committee? If it’s not legislation, who holds the decision-making power? Refining the problem and the solution you want, along with knowing who can make it happen, is the first step to moving forward with an advocacy goal. When you meet with who can make it happen, come ready with viable solutions, not just problems. There’s power in providing viable solutions, as you could be essentially writing a bill’s “first draft”, even if/when your ask gets amended in the legislative process.
#2: “Friends” Wasn’t Just a 90’s Show
Are you alone in trying to create change? Who can you identify that might strengthen your position? With whom might you ally? There is strength in numbers and power in broad movements. A corollary question is who would oppose the change you want? What are their arguments and how can you address them? Can you change their minds?
#3: Tell Me a Story. I Like Stories
How do you reach people to gain their support? Data and facts are important, but not enough. With advocacy, forget what you learned in professional school about the scientific method and the problem with anecdotal evidence. You’re not writing a paper here. Anecdotes are often more powerful than data in the advocacy realm. You need to develop a good story that both portrays the problem you are trying to solve and captures one’s attention at an emotional level. What are the key reasons to support your cause that would reach someone? Use examples that come from your patients, practice, or neighborhood. Remember that your community is your legislator’s community as well, and their job is to represent you and the community. (Read the blog posts Moving Away From Data Points and Back to the Patient Story and From Journalism to Medicine: Not Such a Huge Leap After All to be prepared.)