Tag Archives: administrative advocacy

Crowdsourcing Week: Implementation Campaigns

More crowdsourcing!

Today, I have a request for the crowd that is more explicitly focused on my teaching, instead of my consulting practice.

So, think of your contributions as feeding the next generation of social work policy professionals.

I appreciate you in advance, of course.

One of the things I stress with my policy students is the importance of the entirety of the policy change process. Creating social change, of course, isn’t just about legislative advocacy; we spend quite a bit of time talking about change within the judicial arena, with administrative agencies, and in larger community/societal attitudes and policy conversations, too.

But, even when we are talking specifically about changing legislation as a vehicle for policy improvement, that doesn’t mean just the period between bill introduction and celebratory signing ceremony. Instead, it has to start much earlier, when we’re formulating policy ideas and building a base and connecting with potential allies and negotiating alternatives.

And it has to far outlast the drying of the ink on the executive’s signature, if we want our policy changes to actually root, and to actually have an impact.

And I think my students really get that, conceptually. They nod their heads a lot, and they ask smart questions in response to the articles that we read about the process of policy implementation, and advocacy around the same.

But, when it comes time to give them examples of organizations’ and groups’ advocacy campaigns around implementation, I struggle. There are great case stories about organizations working with elected officials to change laws. My students eat these up, because they’re real, and they make the process real for them, then, before they get out into the field.

But so much of the policy implementation process happens behind closed doors, literally and figuratively. Organizations are not often in the news for implementation victories, even though influencing the staffing levels and qualifications, and the due process procedures to which clients have access, and the eligibility rules that drive access to benefits, and the definitions about what will be provided and in what ways…all of that can matter just as much as getting the law changed in the first place.

Recently, the protracted battles around implementation of the Affordable Care Act, including the promulgation of thousands of pages of regulations enacting that long and complex legislation, have provided good context to make these implementation issues real for my students. Certainly the ACA has been a very good example of the truth that:

Implementation Matters.

But I need more.

I need examples of advocacy campaigns around policy implementation, particularly (being choosy, here!) where the advocates’ primary purpose was not legislative change, in the first place, but changes to administrative or regulatory policy, which implements legislation.

I would love stories about why advocates chose this as the target, how they constructed a campaign, what levers of power they used, how they mobilized necessary constituents, how they secured the information they needed, how they evaluated their successes.

I welcome case studies of implementation efforts that are successful in achieving the stated goal, and those that fell short in some ways, because we can certainly learn from both. It would be wonderful if folks have examples where I can contact the key players involved, but I’ll also take anonymous clippings, as instructive illustrations.

Crowd, can you hook me up with some good implementation stories?

Why we need rules, and why rules need you

Rules are a pretty big deal around our house.

We don’t really have that many, truly, in part because of my parenting philosophy about letting the kids learn from natural consequences, and part, in truth, because I don’t know that I could be that vigilant in enforcing them all the time (things tend to slide a bit with the 4 kids competing for Mommy’s attention).

But the rules that we have are important, not just to Mom and Dad (because they are things like “no hitting” and “we only throw balls and beanbags”, without which things would get even wilder around here), but also to our kids. In fact, they are the first ones to invoke a broken rule (by their siblings), and they cling to those rules in comfort to provide some boundaries around their world. One of their most sacred is that they do NOT have to share their “nighttime stuff” (special blankets and animals), even if a sibling asks really nicely, even if it’s not being used right now. They’re just off-limits from the normal sharing framework, and they take that very, very seriously.

And so our rules around here have me thinking about rules in a policy context, too, and about just how important they are. I found a quote the other day (I’m sure the origin is appropriately cited on a sticky note somewhere around our house, but I know not where), something like “rules define our civilization.”

And, if you think about it, that’s very true. I mean, our policies are really more about setting our goals, charting our general direction, and expressing our preferences.

The rules, where everything from definitions to allocations to staffing qualifications to eligibility constraints (and on and on) are decided…that’s really where we set out how we intend to go about living together, and working towards those common (or not so common) purposes.

It’s how we make society work, within our families, or in our nation, or in the global community.

Rules are a big deal.

But they’re so hidden, and so opaque, and so seemingly complex, that we often throw up our hands, even as the most committed advocates, and abdicate this whole arena. It’s almost like at my house; I know that if we had many more rules, I’d have to relax on their enforcement, because there’s just only so much mental energy.

And, yet, in the realm of advocacy, just as in parenting, we can’t afford to let rules go unpoliced, or to allow rules to distort the intentions over which we so vigorously battled. We can’t ignore the trees, so to speak, if we want to keep the forest from burning down around us. The details matter.

This month in my Advanced Policy class, then, we focus on administrative advocacy, so that my students (I hope!) are prepared, first, to think about rule-making as an extension of their policy activities, and to bring their considerable skills and talents to this work. We go through the Federal Register and weigh in on rule changes. We identify the state and federal agencies charged with rulemaking and begin to build relationships with those bureaucrats. We explore whether the policy changes they seek alongside those they serve can be accomplished through regulations, and we brainstorm effective ways to engage clients as constituents in the rulemaking process.

Because that last piece is, I admit, more difficult in the administrative advocacy realm even than in legislative work. And yet it’s critical. Just like with my kids, where we have played a critical role in shaping the rules that govern our lives, we are more invested in upholding them (some might say zealous, if they saw my 3 oldest marking their territory).

So, as my students integrate this part of their advocacy repertoire into their work, what are your administrative advocacy tips to share? What lessons have you learned? What victories have you won? What has worked to make these efforts resonate with your organization and your constituency? What are your goals for rulemaking in your core issue areas in the months and years to come?

Because the answer to those questions, really, is the answer to “how do you seek to define our civilization?”

And I’m certain you have some ideas about that.