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Guidebook 36 Communicating the Value of Transportation Research Communicating with Congress, provide the staff member with clear and direct information about your recommended course of Legislators, and Staff action, because officials depend on staff members to brief them on issues and concerns from When and Why constituents. By communicating effectively with For transportation research, elected officials and staff members, you can add your point of view to the staff who work with them play key roles in those briefings. policy making on issues affecting transportation funding. For example, in most states, we are Assisting your government affairs liaison with talking about the members of the transportation establishing an ongoing relationship with elected and public works committees and the legislators officials and their staff can be valuable to your who sit on fiscal committees that deal with research. Identify opportunities to showcase budgets for transportation and infrastructure research and results that are important to their building. Speakers or majority leaders also play constituencies, such as a tour of your research a role, particularly in deciding whether to give facility or a demonstration of your research. By the go-ahead on major, new initiatives or big developing an ongoing relationship with them, spending increases. Keep in mind that elected you will have greater access and credibility, and officials are usually generalists. They will know a your relationship will be well established by the fair amount on some issues, but not the full range time they are asked to weigh-in on authorizing or of topics. funding your program. Elected officials are an important audience Applying the Communication Process because they can introduce legislation and help secure funds for transportation research and Context: Elected officials have constituencies. projects. They are very busy, with little time to Those officials are responsible for enacting learn about issues or look at research unless legislation and advocating it is directly related to something on which policies that will benefit they are focused on that day. Typically, they the citizens they represent. are overwhelmed by people and documents This fact should guide all of and ideas coming at them and have little time your communication plans to digest and respond. They need quick, often with this audience. Current shorthand methods for understanding your events on the local, state, research. and national levels are all parts of the context that will On the community, state, and national levels, directly affect your strategy Communication Process connect with this influential audience by working for communication. Listen with your agency's government affairs liaisons, to and pay attention to what but the timing needs to be right. Get to know elected officials care about and address those when an important piece of legislation will be concerns. Most legislators already have goals voted on or when budget decisions are made, and based on their own standards or their views of time your communication with them accordingly. their constituency's interests. Because elected officials are often very busy, it is very likely that your government affairs liaison will meet with a staff member rather than the official. Take advantage of this opportunity to
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Guidebook 37 Putting It All Together Strategy: Your strategy for a meeting with Channels: Many meetings between researchers, an elected official should be to connect your officials, and staff are conducted in person. Other research or program to the needs, wants, or channels, however, can be extremely useful to events of the official's district or state. Assert help officials and their staff members remember the benefits of your research or program to you and your message. Leave a fact sheet with the official's constituency up front. The final a program description and your specific talking element of your strategy should be to make a points with the staff members after a meeting. clear recommendation for a course of action to Also, if you have a newsletter, ask if you can the official. Acknowledge the current events and add elected officials to your mailing list to help contextual factors, state the benefits you can keep them informed on the issues important to bring to the table, and tell the official or staff transportation researchers. member your recommendation. You should not assume elected officials will agree with research Style: When communicating with elected officials, findings, nor should you try to convince them keep it brief. A message that is condensed to one about what they should care about. Once you or two pages with the main points up front will be start arguing about values or goals, you become much more accessible than a full research report. an advocate, not a researcher. Also, speak to officials and staff members as you would to a family member. Strive for clarity, and Content: When communicating with elected tell a story about the research so that it takes on a officials, stress how research can help solve human-interest tone and is easy to remember. problems in the official's district or state. Because legislators and other elected officials think in human terms, rather than statistical or research terms, they will appreciate research information Communicating with Congress that is explained in ways accessible to laypersons. It is important, therefore, to combine research Work with your organization's data with examples of how people are affected. government affairs liaison. Help This connection to the context may also provide build an ongoing relationship with elected officials by keeping your liaison a link to a human element or news hook that informed of your research and identify can make your communication more relatable. opportunities to showcase your results. For example, the collapse of the bridge in Know the issues. Be familiar with Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota (2007), gave pending legislation, where the official researchers an opportunity to talk about the stands on the legislation, and your need for studies on new building materials preferred course of action. and the funds needed to improve the existing Be brief. Time is important to infrastructure. congressional members and staff, so be on time, expect to wait, and be prepared to discuss one or two issues at most. Finally, do not overstay your welcome. Leave a summary. Make sure the summary captures the reason for your visit and the points that you raised. Remember to leave your business card so you can be contacted if necessary. Do not make demands. Recommend a course of action, but threats or hardball tactics can undermine your credibility.