Objective Data Matters in Advocacy

Advocacy is important for associations of all shapes and sizes, as legislations and policies can significantly impact entire markets and industries. Through the years, associations have become increasingly sophisticated in their advocacy efforts, delivering more than just messages from their constituents. Messages should be objective and factual, supported by hard truths and evidence based conclusions.

Now, more than ever, our efforts must be backed by reliable data that supports our position. We live in an interesting and challenging time. More and more people turn to nontraditional modes to get their news, and many are directed by perception and predetermined objectives. With people’s minds seemingly biased from the onset, it can be difficult to present information that may not agree with your audience’s current stance.

Removing emotion from the equation is just one piece of the puzzle. Being able to present objective data that can effectively communicate an indisputable truth and gain the public’s support may be the most important weapon in your arsenal.

According to Laura Berkey-Ames, Senior Manager of Government Relations at American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, “An effective advocate is someone who is well-informed and equipped with factual information and research. As a lobbyist, you are first and foremost an educator who should rely on data to help individuals gain a better understanding of your industries’ policy priorities.”

The role of data in advocacy is multifaceted and there are both typical and atypical ways to use it. When collecting data, it’s important to keep in mind the following practices:

  1. Consider if the data you need is already available;

    a. If so, obtain it from the most reliable source(s) – i.e. government sources, associations, etc.

    b. If not, carefully consider how you can obtain the information via phone interviews, online surveys, or other primary research techniques.

  2. If research is necessary;

 a. You need to first understand the objective of the research;
If you are trying to influence government officials, you will need to learn in advance what  matters to them and what data might influence their decisions. For example, you might want to demonstrate the degree to which something exists in the population (e.g. what percentage of the population do/don’t have flood insurance), or you could measure public opinion (e.g. what percentage of the population believes the government should offer subsidized flood insurance).

If you are trying to influence public opinion, consider testing different messages and monitoring public reaction. Test multiple segments of the relevant population to check for different reactions. In terms of matching methodology to objectives, if you think you know the relevant potential message, you might be able to measure it in a quantitative survey. If not, you may benefit from qualitative research to help develop potential alternative messages.

b. Second, you will need to consider how you will collect data.  If you need to present a lot of words or pictures before you can ask for an opinion, online research methods may be best.  If you need a representative sample from a small geography, telephone research is probably your best bet.

c. Next, you will need to consider how to report the data and what questions you need to ask. Most people do this the other way around.  Asking balanced, unbiased questions is a difficult skill to master. You want to make sure the people developing these questions are skilled in this area. It might be wise to consult with a professional.

 d. Consider the statistical confidence level needed.  There will often be an expectation of a confidence interval of +/- 3% or less.  However, you may need to balance this against available budget constraints.

Whether directly or indirectly, data helps advocacy in both big and small ways. However, with so much data out there and so many ways to collect it, the trick is figuring out what you need, how you’ll get it, and how you can communicate it in such a way that you win over the different types of audiences.

Vault provides associations with information that can be used to inform legislative and regulatory advocacy efforts.

Our efforts generally fall into two main categories:

1. Surveys among association members to collect confidential information that is aggregated to provide information about an industry or industry segment that would otherwise not exist in a form useful for advocacy. Learn more about our survey research.

2. Opinion polls to measure perceptions on a variety of issues among consumers and industry professionals – often among hard-to-reach audiences