Visit Your Policymaker

Purpose

A personal visit is one of the most effective methods of advocating and making a lasting impression on your policymaker.  It provides you with an opportunity to fully share your story and express your concerns.  It also allows time for you and your policymaker to ask specific questions and improve both of your understanding of what are often complex policy issues.

LaCAN Leaders strive to meet with every state legislator in person prior to each legislative session to share about issues affecting people with developmental disabilities and their families.  Leaders schedule and coordinate these visits, provide fact sheets to introduce and explain the issues, and support members in sharing their personal stories. Please contact your Leader if you would like to join him/her on a legislative visit.  Click here for LaCAN Leader contact info.  Click here for What to Expect at a Legislative Visit.

Below are the basic steps for coordinating your own visit with a policymaker:

Preparation

  • Identify your policymaker.  Click here for your State Legislators.  Click here for Legislator contact information.  Click here for your BESE Member. Click here for a list of other key policymakers. 
  • Identify your main concern or message.  Be sure you can state this clearly and concisely.
  • Form your visit team.  It is helpful to take along two or three other advocates that share your concerns and position.
  • Request an appointment.  Identify yourself as a constituent and the topic you would like to discuss.
  • Determine the roles for each team member.  Know who will take the lead, who will provide the facts, and who will provide the personal examples.
  • Practice for the meeting.  It’s a good idea to practice what you want to say before the meeting. This is especially important if there are multiple participants.
  • Call to confirm your appointment.  Contact the office a few days before your appointment to ensure you are still on the policymaker’s schedule.

Steps

  • Introduce yourself
  • Start with a positive.  You can compliment the policymaker for previous support or at the very least thank him/her for taking the time to meet with you.
  • Take initiative.  State clearly and concisely what issue you want to discuss, what your position is, and what action you would like your policymaker to take.  Provide facts about why he/she should take action.  Provide a personal story to support these facts.
  • Make a connection.  Show how your issue or concern will affect the policymaker’s constituents and local community.
  • Be flexible.  Meetings will rarely go exactly how you practiced them. Your policymaker may bring up or focus on other topics you feel are unrelated.  Attempt to steer the conversation back to your area of concern, but always be polite.
  • Allow time for questions.  Do not answer questions if you don't know the answer, but offer to get back with him/her if you have a source for this information.  Your LaCAN Leader can help you get the correct answer.
  • Provide material to support your position.  Leave behind your contact information and a one-page fact sheet with basic info about your issue and your specific request for your policymaker’s reference.
  • End with thank you.  Again, remember that your policymaker’s time is very valuable.  Thank him/her for taking time to meet with you whether or not he/she agrees with your position on an issue.

Follow Up

  • Take notes.  While the meeting is still fresh in your memory, write down your impressions and any comments and/or commitments made by the policymaker.
  • Send thank you card.  Always send a prompt thank you letter.  In this letter you can reiterate your key points, remind the legislator of any commitments made, give any follow-up information you promised to provide, and once again thank him/her for the opportunity to meet.
  • Share your experience. If you did not visit your policymaker with your LaCAN Leader, be sure to let him/her know the results of your visit.

Etiquette and Other Tips

  • Dress nicely.
  • Arrive on time.
  • Always be respectful.  Remember your goal is to create a working partnership.
  • Do your research.  It is helpful to know something about your policymaker and his/her position (voting history) on your issue in the past. 

References

American Public Health Association (n.d.) Tips for making a visit to your policy-maker. Retrieved from http://www.apha.org/NR/rdonlyres/D5EC69B8-B82C-4E3A-912D-8B5203960B9D/0/TipsforMakingaVisittoYourPolicyMaker.pdf
Connecticut Health Policy Project (n.d.). Visiting with a policymaker. Retrieved from http://www.cthealthpolicy.org/toolbox/legislative/visiting_policymaker.htm
Union of Concerned Scientists (2013). How to have an effective visit with your policy maker. Retrieved from http://www.ucsusa.org/action/meeting-with-legislators.html
 
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