Civic Engagement and Advocacy Blog

Civic Engagement Best Practices for Legislative Action Centers

Posted by Brent Willis on 5/29/15 7:00 AM

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Top 3 challenges we hear from government affairs professionals: 

1.  Engaging members to take an advocacy action.

2.  Managing a member knowledge base and,

3.  Educating members on policy issues. 

If you think about it, makes total sense. In order to get members to take an action, they have to know the basics of :
  • What action to take. Do you need them to call, email, or write? Is it obvious and easy what they need to do? Can it be done in as few clicks and time as possible?
  • Why they need to take it. What will happen if they don't?
  • When they need to take the action. Is there a vote in 3 days, a week? What's the time line until something happens that affects them?
  • Who it will impact if they do or don't take the action. Not just them, but their family, friends, businesses?
  • How their action (email, phone call, letter, social post) will make an impact. Can you share previous success stories of civic engagement and positive outcomes?  People like to know the results of their action and how it impacted the situation.

It would be so much easier and simpler if we all did things in a nice, neat, linear fashion. But, we don't. Now more than ever, we interact and make decisions in a very non-linear fashion. Hence the challenge. People are dynamic and distracted. 

So, to overcome this education and engagement obstacle, organizations create legislative action centers that are either a spin-off from their own website or a section of their website that is dedicated to advocacy.

The goal is to make a one-stop, centralized place in which to direct members.  The challenges that many organizations face when trying to implement best practices are:

  • Measuring member civic engagement. The website can only list the things they should do and then sends them off to do it. i.e., Organization sends an email out to its members to write and call a representative to voice an opinion.  Unfortunately, there is no way to really know what actions, if any,have been taken. 
  • Tracking member sentiment. There is no way to know what members think of various legislation.  Wouldn't it be great to know how your members felt on an issue before the organization took a stand? This type of data can avoid some serious miscommunication and potential loss of membership... just ask AARP.
  • Technology adoption among staff. There isn't enough staff to continually change the website with the latest updates, or the technology takes too much time to understand and figure out.
  • Public versus private. In some cases privacy is a concern, not everyone wants to air their opinions in public. In other cases, you need to get the voice of the member out to the media, or on social. With websites it can be either all or nothing.
  • Matching members to their respective legislators. There is no way the website can figure out exactly who the visitor should be contacting. 
  • Making actions easy to do. Taking action isn't easy for members either. They have to find out who their legislator is and find out their contact info as well. Then, they have to draft an email using the guidelines the organization (hopefully) gave them.
  • Managing a knowledge base. Let's face it, creating content is a lot of work. And the content that gets the most engagement is the content created by the members themselves. But it still needs to be organized and managed.

In the age of the internet, that is a lot of work and only the extremely motivated person is likely to do it. To add to the complexity, most member databases are very diverse. How do you motivate civic engagement from a millennial, or a baby boomer? New members and veteran members? 

The good news is, there are social community platforms to help solve all of these issues you may face.  Legislative action centers, that are built on private social community platforms, like Higher Logic for instance, have not only more flexibility in the functionality, they also offer a means to take advocacy action from within the community and the measure engagement.

If your membership is already congregating within a community, doesn't it make sense to place the latest advocacy alert in front of them?  If engagement is critical, this is one less barrier and can be a significant improvement for public policy initiative.

How are you currently managing your legislative action centers? What do you wish you could do, but can't?  Tell us and we may make your suggestion our latest update!

Learn more about Higher Logic & Votility's Legislative Action Centers 


Brent Willis

Written by Brent Willis

People want to be heard other then just voting every 2,4, or 6 years. Groups that engage them and measure it are positioned to win the public policy battles of the future. My vision and mission is to revive the civic engagement of the American citizen in government relations; at the federal, state, and local level.

Topics: civic engagement, legislative action center