Knowledge + Engagement = Great Public Policy

by Bridget Brown and Romella Lee

When you think of ‘policy engagement' do you think of blistering talk show hosts, political candidates debating controversial issues, or complicated international contacts? Some people do and are ready to extricate themselves from any association with those scenarios! Alternatively there are strategies where the average person is open to policy discussions. Here we present a positive strategy of policy engagement and a few basic tools or principles that are pro-active and can increase engagement. To help meet the challenges of recruiting/ retaining memberships, first consider public policy itself and then engagement support actions. Members and potential members may be responsive to civic and social interaction with a basic understanding that it can be positive and rewarding.

It is time to put the public back into public policy. Effective policy requires the input from knowledgeable citizens. That means the career development professional needs to become more pro-active. First and foremost, to become an effective player in the public policy arena, members must become knowledgeable about the issues. Start with what they know: Who are our members? What services does our program provide to members? How are our services funded (federal, state, local, private)? Do our members have to financially contribute? If the organization receives public money, are there limitations on the services we may provide? How do these answers promote or create barriers to successful career and employment options?

Many have never thought about these questions. They know what they do when they get to work, but they may not have thought about the bigger picture and the implications for their membership.

Once you have that knowledge, take a step back and imagine how things could be at your organization if there were no barriers to participation, limitations on funding, or competing priorities? This is where association leaders can play an integral role in creating and facilitating a meaningful dialogue. This dialogue not only will lead to greater knowledge of the issues facing your members, it can also enable leaders to create an active and engaged membership base.

Here are some principles for creating an environment for discussions. Develop a recruiting process that will lead to meaningful recruitment and retention through policy engagement, by attending to these principles and their resulting conclusions.

  • Principle 1: Interest is heightened by understanding and passion.

Conclusion 1: Clearly educate members in basic principles and goals, and ask all to play an equal and active role in membership or organizational activities and projects.

  • Principle 2: Members want a voice in an organization and developing its traditions.

Conclusion 2: Increase members' consciousness of policy and advocacy as essential elements of the individual's professional growth.

  • Principle 3: Professionals want to make a better connection between their work and the world.

Conclusion 3: Recognize and reward members' activities which create public engagement of all types and at all levels.

  • Principle 4: Organizations value members' attendance and participation in activities on a regular basis.

Conclusion 4: Provide a variety of enrichment activities with options that include research, teaching, learning, and include policy engagement.

  • Principle 5: Board members should recognize their own interests in civic engagement and if necessary get involved at some level.

Conclusion 5: Educate and motivate board members to play proactive roles at work, in the community and government.

Members may need help identifying common areas of interest and shared priorities where collaboration can begin to take place. It is most helpful is to be heard and supported throughout discussions. Finally, don't overlook the importance of having sensitive leaders in the development of policy engagement activities.

Once all of the discussions have occurred, then start to develop consensus on what policy could or should be and direction for actions. At the very least the positive and negative consequences of the status quo should be identified. Even if members choose not to take this knowledge to the next level of developing or promoting specific policy with legislators, you have still provided them with a great service.

Creating a common vision for your organization will benefit all members and the points of actions. Educating the membership about potential policy implications and inspiring them to act locally and to plant seeds of political engagement is worthwhile business.

For association members who do wish to take public policy from the knowledge level to the action level, NCDA has a resource: NCDA members are invited to join the NCDA Legislative Network. Members in the Network will receive regular updates on key legislative initiatives impacting career development. To join, send a request to Bridget Brown.

Romella Lee is currently President of the Oregon Career Development Association and a Services Specialist with the Oregon Career Information System located at the Universityof Oregon. Romella may be reached at rlee@orcis.uoregon.edu.

Bridget Brown was formerly the Executive Director of America's Career Resource Network Association and currently serves as chair of NCDA's Government Relations Committee. Bridget can be reached at bridget@nawdp.org

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