Building community support can increase your advocacy impact by delivering one consistent message to policymakers. You can build community support by connecting with groups and individuals who share a common interest or are affected by CTE, such as teachers, students, parents, community groups and businesses. You can involve the community in phone and e-mail campaigns, community forums, meetings, networking events and visits to legislators. Community support can also make advocacy easier by dividing the workload and giving everyone an opportunity to contribute.
Raising public awareness, developing partnerships and building coalitions are all avenues that lead to community support. Below are some tools you can use to build support for CTE in your community.
Raising the public’s awareness of the value and benefits CTE provides to your community is an effective way to garner public support. One way you can reach the general public is by hosting public forums, like a town hall meeting. Discover what education or workforce development issues affect your community and determine how CTE addresses these issues. Convene local experts and discuss how you can effectively use a public forum to draw attention to these issues. Have education experts, business leaders, lawmakers, parents and students available to speak to community groups about the benefits and needs of CTE.
You may also arrange for these advocates to participate in school board and PTA meetings, state committee meetings, advocacy groups and other education-related groups. Advocates can also participate in phone and e-mail campaigns, networking events and visits to legislators. Before involving advocates, have some action items and materials prepared that explain issues facing CTE and ways they can become involved. (For ideas on developing action items, please see the following Toolkit sections: Visiting Your Policymakers, Corresponding with Policymakers, Hosting Site Visits for Policymakers and Targeting the Media.)
Media campaigns are another way to raise the public’s awareness. News releases, opinion pieces (op-eds) and letters to the editor are various ways you and your allies can connect with the general public and gain community support for CTE. Additionally, what appears in local newspapers is important to legislators. For additional information on writing and submitting articles to the media, please see the Targeting the Media section of the Toolkit.
Building partnerships with different organizations, institutions and businesses can increase your impact and unleash new energy, creativity and insights. Partnerships go beyond simple networks and require the commitment of a few parties to work fully together to address problems and opportunities. When you partner with others, you gain access to different skills, networks and resources, and you subsequently tend to reach a larger audience. Policymakers also value and respect diverse coalitions of different stakeholders within the community, so partnering with others can improve your strength and credibility. Things you should look for in potential partners are their interest in CTE and their ability to disseminate information to the community. Examples of potential partners include business and industry, schools, PTA, public television stations and community organizations such as Lions Clubs, Kiwanis and boys and girls clubs. You may also want to join an existing partnership in your community.
Building a coalition with groups, individuals and organizations that share a common interest is an effective advocacy tool in influencing and developing policy. A coalition is an alliance of multiple groups and individuals that focus and deliver a consistent message on a particular issue and eliminates duplication of effort. Below are strategies to help develop a successful coalition:
1. Form a coalition: The first step in creating a coalition is to bring together a core group of people. You should select groups that are most affected by the given issue and that broadly represent your community. You should include key stakeholders, including education leaders, school administrators, teachers, parents, and business and industry partners. You may also want to consider including agencies, institutions, community leaders and policymakers. To assemble a coalition, start with people you know and ask them to reach out to others with an interest in CTE. Then contact people in agencies and institutions most affected by CTE. Once you have formed a coalition, ask members for suggestions of others who should also be included. Coalitions can then meet to discuss policy issues and develop proposals or advocacy strategies.
2. Determine the coalition’s mission and objectives: A mission statement describes the coalition’s purpose. It should be concise, outcome-oriented and include the group’s overarching goals. Start by defining the issue or problem around which the coalition has come together and how the coalition plans to address the problem. Keep the mission statement broad. You do not want to limit strategies or sectors of the community that may become involved in the coalition. Furthermore, everyone should agree on the wording and intent of the mission statement because it will be the foundation of the coalition and its identity. After the mission statement has been developed, the coalition should determine the objectives that focus on achieving the mission. The objectives should lay out what the coalition plans to accomplish, by when and by whom.
3. Determine leadership and create an action plan: Leadership is critical to an effective coalition. Leaders are often people who lead other organizations, have experience on a particular subject and have connections or networks within the community. Leaders should be people who can get the coalition members to feel a sense of ownership, motivate members to actions, recruit new members and keep the mission and objectives of the coalition moving forward.
Coalition leaders need to work with members to develop an action plan that strives to achieve the coalition’s mission and objectives. An action plan should address the specific changes the coalition wants to influence, who will carry it out, when the plan will be completed or for how long it will be maintained, and what resources are needed to carry out the steps. Action plans also need to be flexible. As your coalition grows and the objectives are accomplished, members may want to revise the plan.
4. Determine strategies for keeping coalition members involved: Retaining members is crucial to sustaining a strong coalition. It is important to keep members involved and invested in the coalition. Be inclusive and allow all members to participate. Share activities and responsibilities with all members and make a conscience effort to involve everyone in the coalition. Let members know how valuable they are to the coalition and how their unique contribution has helped achieve the objectives. In your action plan, include activities that will result in short-term, reachable successes, and celebrate those successes. You may also want to provide ongoing training, like a seminar, guest speaker or retreat, as a means of professional development and motivation for members.
*Information for “Building Community Support” section of the Toolkit was adapted from the Community Toolbox at http://ctb.ku.edu.