Choosing Issues

Once you have an organization in place, it is important to carefully choose what issues to take on. Advocates must consider several things, including:

  • Community needs—Make a thorough assessment of what needs to be done in your community. Perhaps you may wish to study a "model community" and then assess what your community would have to do to realize the model's characteristics.
  • Potential resources—Find out what has been done in the past in your community and what other communities have done to realize goals. Develop a thorough understanding of how your local, state and federal governmental entities contribute to the environment that you are trying to affect. Treat issues individually, and cater to specific issue needs.
  • Feasibility—Avoid taking on issues that lack feasibility. Your focus should be on a needs based approach, but keep in mind what is attainable. Taking on issues that are impossible to solve will be hard on group moral. Small, continuous steps in the right direction are more efficient than trying to leap ahead but failing to make progress.
  • Issue history—Examine prior efforts that have taken place in your community. If you are tackling something new, find out if there have been similar efforts elsewhere and learn from such efforts. While you can learn from examples, you can also adapt new techniques/approaches to your issue and possibly lead the way for others to follow.
  • Political environment—Educate yourself as to the type of environment under which you will be working. It is essential to have an appreciation for constraints under which governmental entities operate. What is the budget environment? Is there a surplus or deficit? Is it a zero sum game where for all new spending there must be a cut in existing spending? Are there existing accounts that could be tapped to help solve your problem/issue? If it is a legal issue, is there precedent? Show that you have done your part by answering all the questions you can possible answer before meeting with officials. Exhaust existing opportunities before asking for something new. If existing programs are not working, make suggestions as to how to improve them instead of simply complaining that they do not work.
  • Potential pitfalls—Before taking on a new issue, consider all of the possible ramifications. Will there be adverse reactions within the community? Build upon small victories.
  • Issue costs—One must fully consider the cost of taking on various issues. How much time will be devoted to a particular issue? What are the costs of running the issue campaign, including hours of work, materials, and contracted work? Will a particular issue lead to other time consuming challenges that you may not want to take on? Consider the potential cost of realizing success on an issue that in the long run is deemed a failure. For instance, if you get a facility built that is underutilized, will your efforts undermine future facility enhancements?