Condense information into talking points for a congressional staff member
Policy advocates on Capitol Hill monitor current events regarding topics of interest to their organization and create fact sheets to send to members of congress and their staff. Fact sheets summarize information that supports your argument in such a way that a congressional staff person can understand your viewpoint. Depending on your organization, you are likely to be proactive in sending your fact sheets to a congressional office. However, there are cases where they may reach out to you and ask for talking points.
The amendment on the floor is to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Examine the news about NEH (neh.gov) and evaluate NEH programs and initiatives (grants.gov).
Write a fact sheet to a representative of your choice. Search for a congressional member who sits on the Appropriations Subcommittees on Interiors, Environment, and Related Agencies for the Senate or House, which have jurisdiction over funding decisions for the NEH. Conduct research on the congressional member. Prepare a document to present to the congressional member’s staff or office.
Task 1: Identify issues the senator or representative cares about.
When writing fact sheets, a successful approach is to ask (1) who is my target audience and (2) what issues are they concerned about? To find areas of concern, think about areas that his or her constituents might care about in his or her home state. The fact sheet is more effective if it is specific and personal to the target person in Congress. Each category below has an example to get you started, but think beyond these examples. Get creative!
- Economic impact – losing jobs. For example, defunding the NEH would mean that faculty, postdocs, and grad students who are funded by NEH grants could lose their jobs.
- Personal impact – what does the individual care about? Gather facts about his or her hobbies, previous organizations and involvements, and how they might be impacted by loss of NEH funding or activity.
- Political impact – polling data. For example, how would his or her election be impacted by the way s/he votes?
- Financial impact – who has contributed to his or her campaigns in the past?
- Diverse roles – what else is the NEH responsible for that affects issues at the local and national levels?
Task 2: Search
Perform a search for one or two of the categories above and record information based on what you find. Consult the list of resources below for places from which to gather information.
Resources to find information – For this simulation, go to sources that have digested and summarized information rather than analyzing your own data sets.
- Budgets for agencies
- Federal agency websites to find articles, news stories, or data
- State-by-state profiles and press releases
- Polling data
- Members of Congress
- Use hearings to find quotes to use in your fact sheet
- Use pull quotes to support the argument
- Census information organized by congressional district
Task 3: Create Graphics (advanced)
Fact sheets typically rely on graphics such as charts and graphs. For this simulation, create graphics if you have time. See examples of two different types of fact sheets from Boston University:
- ”Why Support Research at the Department of Defense?”
- ”What Does a Boston University Undergraduate Look Like?”
Challenges to Overcome
The common thread is “Think about your audience!”
Remove jargon whenever possible. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes and use an appropriate tone for the letter. Assume the target audience doesn’t know the facts, but don’t be condescending.
Consider how your audience may read and digest your fact sheet. Will they be reading it on a device or while they are multitasking? You may want to send bullet points in the body of an email rather than as an attachment.
Numbers are one way to influence people; some people in Congress are only swayed by data. However, an equally valuable strategy is making a personal connection to your audience by including a memorable story or anecdote. Personal stories are one way to get a story to stick and change minds.
Create a one page document of bulleted talking points that a staffer can use to:
- Give a speech on the floor
- Write a positional paper
- Write a letter
- Make an argument on your organization’s behalf
Fact sheets typically rely on graphics such as charts and graphs. For this simulation, create graphics only if you have time.
- Tailor your message to different congressional districts in order to account for differences in constituency (Boston University).
- NEH Mission Statement and Office of Congressional Affairs
- Advocacy Toolkit for Individuals and Organizations from Americans for the Arts.
- Descriptions of “the hill” and other commonly used terminology in policy that may appear in your research of blog and social media posts on current hot topics in politics:
- DC slang (LivetheDMV) – terms to describe the locations and people of Washington DC politics
- ABC Australia article about the book “Decoding the Jargon, Slang, and Bluster of American Political Speech”
- 50 political terms you should know (Stacker.com, 2020) on most commonly referenced terms in news and politics
- Find other legislators who serve on committees that impact the arts and humanities from Americans for the Arts.
- Example of a policy report and elements to research (Georgia Budget and Policy Institute).
For this task:
- Clear, concise writing
- Research and synthesis
- Mental adaptability to a rapidly changing environment
- Ability to condense larger amounts of information
- Communication skills
Needed in this career:
- Communication skill
- Problem solving
- Leadership and teamwork
A professional in the field of policy and advocacy may also:
- Advocating in person or lobbying
- Collect data for advocacy
- Write briefings
- Respond to policy issues
- Hold meetings with various stakeholders
- Work with coalitions to form strategies for going to the Hill
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Simulation author: Thi Nguyen, PhD
Simulation vetted by professionals in Boston and St. Louis.