Tips | Examples of Network Structures | Resources
Creating Responsive Networks
A (responsive) advocacy network is a group of people at local, state or regional levels who, when activated, quickly reach others who take action—make phone calls, email, fax, or write public officials—on behalf of an issue, piece of legislation, or budget item. A responsive network may include only five advocates. Or it may include dozens, hundreds, or even thousands. Any adult literacy advocate with coordinating skills can run an advocacy network. Program administrators, lead instructors, and volunteers are all possible candidates.
The following tips and resources may help you create, build, and evaluate responsive networks:
- Sign up with the National Coalition for Literacy to receive federal level alerts and participate in federal level adult literacy advocacy campaigns.
- Identify members of your local network. Involve civic leaders, businesses and labor. Connect with like-minded coalitions. Let them know you will invite them to participate at key times during the year, to:
- Write a letter to their legislators (for specific tips, see Organizing Local Networks to Write).
- Respond with phone calls, letters, emails, or faxes to 3-4 action alerts.
- Invite legislators to local programs and to GED graduations, as applicable.
- Thank legislators when they support adult education and literacy.
- Obtain communications tools. Create a distribution list or non-federally funded electronic discussion list (“listserv” or electronic mailing list) or fax distribution list to disseminate alerts and share experiences with local advocates. Create a web site or online group using tools like Yahoo or Google groups to share documents and conduct group advocacy work.
- Identify a backup person to disseminate alerts and to motivate your network in case you are unavailable when an alert needs to go out.
- Create a state level advocacy committee to guide your network’s local advocacy. Develop a strategic plan and goals for advocacy. Align these goals with your state advocacy organization’s mission. Identify local advocacy strategies that align with national advocacy strategies. For example, if the national strategy is to have every legislator visit an adult education program that year, create strategies to insure this happens in your state.
- If your local area is large, you might wish to have several “local networks” and network coordinators. If you coordinate a distributed network like this, follow up with these local contacts to insure a strong local response.
- Motivate your network. Create a culture of reporting back. In all alerts, set local target goals so that your state can meet the overall target request on numbers of contacts. Ask advocates to report back when they have made contacts and what, if anything, they learned from the staff or legislators with whom they communicated. Share back with your network: regularly report the numbers of contacts made and from which locations. Foster friendly competition between your local area and other areas. Try to determine which legislators are adult literacy supporters, which are strong supporters and which are champions (willing to make adult literacy one of their highest priorities or their highest priority).
- Share what you learn with regional, state, or national advocacy network leaders.
- After the alert ends, focus on results. Celebrate successes large and small.
- Follow up with the legislative staff responsible over adult education and literacy issues. Thank supporters. Keep your network informed of developments.
Examples of Network Structures
Some states, like Tennessee for example, have distributed local networks. Local Contacts coordinate local networks and receive alerts directly from the State Contact. These local networks may consist of five or ten people who commit to respond to action alerts and, if needed, mobilize their own networks. Every county in the state (99) has a local network run by a Local Contact. Local areas with large populations may have one or several Local Contacts. District Contacts may follow up on a district level with Local Contacts to assist with alerts and insure a strong local response.
Other state networks, for example, might be organized into smaller sub-regional networks, with a regional network leader for each. These regional leaders are contacted with an alert by a statewide leader, and they, in turn, contact the advocates in their region.
Advocacy Network Comparison Chart
The Advocacy Network Comparison Chart examines four advocacy networks through the lens of seven key elements of effective networks.
District and Local Contact Role Descriptions
A one page handout lists role descriptions for district and local contacts in Tennessee advocacy. This is an example of one state’s advocacy infrastructure that can fold in with both state and federal-level grassroots advocacy systems.
Stand Up and Be Counted
The Pennsylvania Association for Adult and Continuing Education (PAACE) provides a succinct ‘how to’ manual for adult educators who want to learn more about participating in public policy advocacy. Revised in 2004, this manual is foundational to understanding and demystifying grassroots advocacy.