The National Education Association is one of the largest labor unions and professional associations in the United States with over 2.9 million members. Each year, NEA compiles a legislative “report card”, which measures members of Congress’ overall support for education. The letter grade (on an A-F scale) that each legislator receives is based upon their voting record, as well as co-sponsorship of NEA-friendly bills, committee votes, behind-the-scenes work, and accessibility both in Washington and the legislator’s home district.
“NEA has the best report card in Washington, D.C. for students and public education,” says Mary Kusler, NEA’s Senior Director for Advocacy. “It’s the most fair and most telling, but also the most complicated and difficult and time-consuming to do. We think of it kind of like testing in schools - better tests are more comprehensive, but harder to score and harder to engage.”
NEA first partnered with FiscalNote as part of an organization-wide digital transformation initiative. Their team saw FiscalNote as a way to transition away from a plethora of solutions to one unified system.
“When we got the tool I saw that we could use it as you would a ‘customer relations tool,’” says Christin Driscoll, a federal lobbyist for NEA. “We can share information as a team, not just record actions. Our Government Relations team uses it for recording interactions, providing background on interactions, and information on our relationships with Congress. The lobbying team sees it as not just a means to an end, but how we communicate in real-time about our relationships.”
Previously, NEA had a single staffer who meticulously compiled the scorecard every year as a labor of love. In addition to voting records, the “human computer” working on this scorecard took into account all lobby reports of interaction with each legislator. Before NEA engaged FiscalNote, much of that was stored in multiple locations in a variety of formats.
“Some scorecards have floor votes only, but ours is extremely complicated,” says Driscoll. “Our employee managing the scorecard would comb through CQ voting records for some information, read every all-staff email to the team, and approach each lobbyist individually to dig out the information. Without him, we would have had difficulty compiling all of this information.”
In addition to the lift required to aggregate this data from each lobbyist, the NEA lobbyists themselves would often wait until the end of the quarter to compile their meetings and lobby reports (as required by the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995), resulting in a backlog of work and extra time spent organizing notes, emails, calendar events, and more.
FiscalNote’s core platform was able to provide NEA with a way to organize how their lobbyists record actions, which in turn made aggregating the information for the report card a much simpler process. The tool became the go-to system of record for lobbyists to record information, and for the team members working on the scorecard to pull legislative data and qualitative information around interactions.
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Unifying The Team
By using the mobile app to log items on-the-go, the team has been putting more meetings in the system as they happen rather than waiting until the end of the month to try and pull together an array of disparate information. Additionally, by providing a centralized repository of data across the entire NEA lobbying team, FiscalNote made collaboration across issues seamless for the users.
NEA has portfolios of education-centric issues that span the country, taking root in different states as well as at the federal level. One lobbyist might have New Jersey as a focus area, but they may need to partner with the lobbyist managing Wyoming on a specific issue. “We aren’t always working together, physically, or on the same issues, but if we are doing our jobs right we are recording what we are doing in FiscalNote and collaborating,” says Driscoll. “If I’m talking to a Representative about a specific bill, I can also thank them for the work they are doing on something else.”
Technology + Data = Speed
By leveraging the data entered into the platform by the lobbyists, FiscalNote’s Professional Services team can now turn around a report card for NEA in only a week, as opposed to the months it took before. The core platform itself has also taken away upwards of 30 hours of work on the report card for each of their six federal lobbyists at the end of the year since they have been logging their interactions in FiscalNote all along.
“Not only have we gotten to a better way, it exceeded my initial dreams of how lobbyists can do this end-of-year work on the report card,” said Driscoll.
And as for the “human computer” who had been compiling the scorecard? “It was hard for him at first to grasp this idea that a computer could calculate the same scores in less time - he spent weekends and hours doing this,” said Kusler. “There was some initial distrust in the calculations, he was checking them all. He was so committed to the mission, he wanted it to be right. When we were able to prove that this worked, it gave him a sense of peace. The other staff besides him weren’t as detail-driven to look through 7,000 data sets and find what was wrong. He believed the technology was going to save the system.”
"The level of support that FiscalNote has provided, not just about the product but about our organization - they think about how we are doing our work."Mary Kusler, Senior Director for Advocacy
National Education Association
Capturing Crucial History And Identifying Future Partners
In addition to gaining time back, the information management capabilities of FiscalNote are working to preserve institutional knowledge at NEA. “We are able to look back historically and see the various actions taken by Members of Congress on our issues, as well as our interactions with them,” said Driscoll. “This is enormously useful for our present and future work.”
In other cases, NEA has been able to align themselves with associations in other verticals (such as agriculture) who are concerned with similar issues, although that may not have been apparent at first. Instead of tracking committee votes by hand, for both primary and secondary committees of concern, FiscalNote makes tracking voting records and finding synergy with potential allies a simple, straightforward process.
NEA considers itself first and foremost to be a mission-driven organization. FiscalNote has enabled them to be more successful in that mission by facilitating better partnerships between their own lobbying teams and providing best-in-class support every step of the way.
“The biggest thing - that has been critical, it’s why we went with FiscalNote over a competitor - has been staff support,” said Kusler. “The level of support that FiscalNote has provided, not just about the product but about our organization - they think about how we are doing our work."
FiscalNote was able to provide NEA with a technology solution that included a human element. According to Kusler, “FiscalNote is not the end of what we are doing, but a means to an end. I believe there are two types of organizations, those that represent their members to Congress, and those that represent Congress to their members. I have always taken it to work for organizations that share the latter point of view. The consistency of our FiscalNote account manager, who has met our educators, has traveled with them, and to meet them, really enables the partnerships that help us carry out our mission.”
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