How to Discover, Monitor, and Act on Local Policy Issues with a Team of One
by Olivia Barrow, Writer, Curate, Part of FiscalNote
Learn how government affairs professionals on small teams stay on top of proposed legislation and regulations at the local level, decide what to prioritize, and find opportunities to advance their cause.
Government affairs professionals at statewide associations are increasingly turning their attention to policy issues within city and county governments. Monitoring local policy allows organizations to spot opportunities to collaborate with communities in a mutually beneficial way, identify ordinances and regulations that pose a threat to their industry, and make headway on issues that have no chance at the state or federal level due to political gridlock.
However, small government affairs teams of one or two people face many challenges when it comes to monitoring and tracking local policy, such as:
Monitoring small communities where issues only come up infrequently. Many small teams find themselves stretched too thin to cover issues in communities besides the largest metro areas.
Deciding what to prioritize. With a limited team, it’s not feasible to take action on every threat or opportunity you discover.
Being proactive instead of reactive. Small teams don’t often have the resources to analyze communities around the state to find opportunities to bring a proposal forward.
Despite the challenges, the benefits of engaging with local policy issues can be huge.
We spoke with several government affairs professionals operating in teams of one or two to learn how they stay on top of proposed legislation and regulations at the local level, decide what to prioritize, and find opportunities to advance their cause.
3 Tips for Effective Tracking and Monitoring of Local Policy
One-person local affairs teams need to be extremely efficient with their time. Here are some of the best tools and techniques effective government affairs teams around the country use to stay informed.
1. Use an Automated Tracking Tool to Monitor Local Government Documents
Using a local policy monitoring software like Curate can multiply your efforts, allowing you to monitor more topics throughout a larger geographical area, and spend more of your time responding to issues.
Curate, part of FiscalNote, scans meeting minutes, agendas, planning, and other documents from more than 12,000 local government entities and over 4,000 school districts across the United States to help government affairs teams stay in the loop about emerging issues, proposed ordinances, and potential opportunities.
One hospitality trade group that uses Curate says it would take two to four people constantly scouring public notices, newspapers, and municipal websites to provide the same level of coverage they’re getting through Curate.
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2. Watch for Issues to Pop Up in Small Communities
Even though their populations are small, rural governments can still pass regulations and policies that can impact businesses that operate in their jurisdiction or rely on their roads to access their suppliers or customers.
This is another area where technology can help. Curate tracks collects and analyzes documents from cities as small as 2,000 residents. You’ll be able to see if an issue is gaining traction in multiple small cities, which might require a more coordinated response, or if it’s an isolated issue that you can afford to ignore for now.
Catherine Holm, legal counsel and government affairs director for the Washington Food Industry Association, says that using Curate to find issues like hazard pay ordinances in small communities has led to blocking or amending ordinances that would have cost her organization’s members more than $1 million.
3. Monitor Topics That Indicate Receptiveness to Your Message
To influence local policymaking, it's important to meet with officials in the early planning stages of new laws or regulations. But if you’re only monitoring for direct mentions of your advocacy priorities, you’ll often only discover policy changes after they’ve already reached the draft phase.
That’s why it’s helpful to monitor issues that indicate a community might be receptive to your message. For example, Collin Mead, government affairs manager for the Wisconsin Bike Fed, says he closely monitors anything related to traffic calming. While these measures don’t always include adding bike infrastructure, slower traffic typically creates safer conditions for bikes. And if a community is already planning to redesign a road, they’ll be more receptive to hearing about incorporating bike infrastructure.
3 Strategies to Maximize Your Impact as a One-Person Advocacy Team
Even with effective monitoring strategies in place, many small government affairs teams have to
make hard decisions about when to take action on an issue. The following strategies can help you decide where to focus your time and make the most of your efforts.
1. Look For Opportunities to Collaborate for Mutual Benefit
Collaboration can be a powerful advocacy strategy when dealing with small local governments, which often struggle to take advantage of new federal grant programs or opportunities. By partnering with external stakeholders, such as utility companies, advocacy groups, or neighboring communities, small governments can benefit from shared resources, expertise, and funding.
For example, Mead says the Rural Community Transportation Alternatives grant program, part of the American Rescue Plan Act, has a lot of funding available for building new recreational trails and resurfacing existing ones. While most communities are in favor of expanding their recreational trails, the grant application is too onerous for many small communities. By offering to help complete the application, the Bike Fed can help secure the funds that communities need to expand their bike infrastructure.
2. Build Relationships So Staffers Reach Out to You
Building relationships is key to bringing about policy change. Mead says a lot of his advocacy work for specific bike projects starts when communities come to the Bike Fed with an idea or maybe even an outline of a plan, but no idea where to go from there.
By building relationships with community members and key staffers, Mead has made sure that he’s the go-to person for advocacy work related to bike infrastructure in Wisconsin.
3. Empower Your Stakeholders and Members to Engage with Local Officials
Empowering your members and internal stakeholders around the state to be your eyes, ears, and mouth at the local level can be a powerful tool for effective government affairs.
By involving your members in local advocacy, you can enlist their help to monitor issues, gather intelligence, and report back on any new developments. For example, Catherine Rollins, manager of local public policy with the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS, shares information with her local chapters and encourages members to attend council meetings, write letters to the editor, or meet with city staff whenever an issue of concern arises in their area.
A digital advocacy tool like VoterVoice allows you to quickly activate and engage your members. Our address-matching capabilities connect your supporters with their local, state, and federal lawmakers, ensuring your message is heard.
Maximize Your Impact with Local Government Monitoring Software
Even when faced with the monumental task of navigating public policy, regulation, and political obstacles at the local level across an entire state, a government affairs team of one can still take action on time-sensitive opportunities and make their voice heard when armed with the best tools and most effective strategies.
And with Curate, one-person government affairs teams can make an even greater impact by monitoring more issues in a larger area, while spending less time to find issues, and making smart decisions about which issues to prioritize. Schedule a demo to find out how you can improve your local policy monitoring efforts.