2017 Spring Retreat and Policy Communications Training
Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

Preparing for Policy Impact

Posted by Lissa Widoff on Thursday, April 13 2017


Lissa Widoff

The Switzer Foundation’s programs all build upon our commitment to identifying and supporting environmental leaders. Our Fellowship Program is the cornerstone of our efforts and our investment in Switzer Fellows focuses on both inner leadership skills and the necessity for leaders to take their expertise and knowledge and apply it in arenas where it can lead to positive environmental improvement.

One of the most important yet challenging of these arenas for change is Washington, DC, the seat of federal government and the system from which flow local and regional policy direction.  We require all new Fellows to participate in a Policy Communications training with COMPASS, our training partner, to help them learn how to effectively communicate a clear message and how to translate their science or expertise for a policy audience.

Whether we are speaking with a Congressional Representative in our district, or a state agency representative in our home state, preparing a message that makes clear how our knowledge and expertise can make a positive contribution to a current concern for a policy-maker can be the beginning of a long-term relationship that can work in both directions.   Learning how to bring new information and perspective to a policy question is an essential skill for environmental leaders. In turn, policymakers and their staff can tap expertise such as that provided by Switzer Fellows as they engage in real world environmental issues.

From March 11-13, 2017 we brought the 2016 Switzer Fellows and two alumni to Washington DC for our annual Policy Communications training.  The training culminated in Fellows having meetings with 40 different offices including with U.S. Congress Legislative staff, federal agency staff, regional decision-making bodies, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations and trade associations.  Some Fellows had clear policy messages; others were able to network and gather information that could contribute to their ongoing research or future policy work.  Despite the uncertain times in DC this early in the Trump administration, most offices were open, available and helpful to our Fellows.

Some of the important outcomes of this training include Fellows being asked to present further information to their congressional offices – some have maintained connections with the staff of U.S. Senators and Congressional representatives who now consider these Fellows an expert resource.  Other outcomes include Fellows expanding their professional networks and placing their work into a larger policy context. Many learned how much easier it is to access their congressional offices than they had previously thought.  Some Fellows who were initially concerned that they did not have current policy-relevant messages were able to work with our COMPASS team to hone their messages to create useful presentations and interactions, and most importantly gained confidence for pursuing such action going forward.  All participants can bring these skills back to their state or local policy makers with more tools and experience than they had before.

And of course, it was a wonderfully fun experience to bring our East and West coast cohorts together with alumni for some networking and celebration!

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