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Key Takeaways:

  • Any effective state affairs program needs a comprehensive plan for engaging with the policymaking community as a whole. A key component of engagement is developing a strategic approach to the national membership organizations of policymakers which are collectively referred to as “the groups.”
  • A sophisticated approach to an engagement strategy takes into account not only strategic goals and objectives, but also budgetary allocations, staff size and experience, and available time. You should also consider your commitment to be involved in the specific group(s).
  • Groups can be organized into a few main categories: executive and administrative groups, legislative branch policymaker groups, and industry professional development groups. Additionally, there are likely issue-specific groups that can be beneficial to your organization.
  • There are two parts to any comprehensive stakeholder engagement plan: a stakeholder analysis, and an outreach and engagement plan.

Any effective state affairs program needs a comprehensive plan for engaging with the policymaking community as a whole. A key component of that engagement is developing a strategic approach to the national membership organizations of policymakers which are collectively referred to as “the groups.” The groups provide opportunities for businesses and other organizations to engage with policymakers on priority issues and, more importantly, develop relationships with key state leaders without having to travel to every state in the country. Some groups have the ability to set policy precedents that individual states often follow with their own legislative efforts.

A sophisticated approach to an engagement strategy takes into account not only strategic goals and objectives but also budgetary allocations, staff size and experience, and available time. You should also consider your commitment to be involved in the specific group(s).

The engagement strategy for a well-funded, well-established, and robust team will be different than for a newly formed state affairs program with fewer teammates and resources. The primary purpose, though, is the same for both: effectively and efficiently advancing priorities in the states. While groups engagement may involve less travel in 2021 as it did in previous years, there are still meaningful opportunities to engage with the groups virtually (read more about that here and here).

Categorizing the Groups

Groups can be organized into a few main categories (please note that this is not a comprehensive list of all available groups). 

First, there are the executive and administrative groups, such as the National Governors Association (NGA);  the National Lieutenant Governors Association (NLGA); and the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). Some of these executive groups also have regional associations such as the Conference of Western Attorneys General (CWAG) that offer opportunities to focus on regional policy priorities. There are also partisan counterparts for both the governors and the attorneys general: the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), the Republican Governors Association (RGA), the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) and the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA).

Second, there are several groups devoted to legislative branch policymakers, such as the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Council of State Governments (technically a hybrid group, as CSG brings all three branches together under one umbrella), State Legislative Leaders Foundation (SLLF), Senate Presidents’ Forum (SPF), the National Foundation for Women Legislators (NFWL), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the Uniform Law Commission (ULC),  among others.

Third, there are dozens of policy think tanks and research organizations that offer a wide variety of engagement opportunities. This category will vary based on the issues and organization prioritizes. For example, if the preferred policy focus is on tax or budget issues, organizations that primarily focus on tax policy will be of value. These often range across the political spectrum, with some groups more on the conservative side of the aisle and others tipping more liberal. They also vary based on size, budget, and influence. It’s important to take an inventory of these groups and understand their priorities and positions in order to identify which are allies and which may be obstacles to policy priorities. There are think tanks and research organizations for every policy area out there: tax, budget, health, housing, technology and privacy, and many more.

Finally, there are industry professional development groups, which provide a forum to interact with other professionals in the government affairs industry and learn skills and tools. These include the Public Affairs Council (PAC), State Government Affairs Council (SGAC), Women in Government Relations (WGR), National Black Professional Lobbyists Association (NBPLA),  and Washington Area State Relations Group (WASRG).

 There are also dozens of issue-specific groups, some of which are likely to offer opportunities for your organization. Examples of these groups include the National Association of State Medicaid Directors, Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Environmental Council of the States. This list literally goes on and on!

Developing a Stakeholder Engagement Plan

There are two parts to any comprehensive stakeholder engagement plan. First is a stakeholder analysis. A stakeholder analysis is both an inventory and a mapping exercise, in which you research which groups are active on your priority issues or have influence with your target audience. After you’ve determined the “who,” it is equally important to determine how these groups are engaging on your issues so that you may understand which groups could be helpful allies in the future and which may present obstacles. 

Second is an outreach and engagement plan. How will you interact with these groups? It’s important to think through your specific goals — perhaps it’s to build or maintain relationships, or maybe it’s to engage in a proactive agenda on a specific issue. You may also be trying to lay the groundwork to prevent detrimental policy, or you may be trying to educate lawmakers or gather intelligence. These don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but you’ll be more efficient if you set goals up front. 

Need Help Developing a Plan?

With several groups planning events for the summer and fall of 2021, now is the opportunity to think through these issues. Need help on where to start, or how to maximize your groups engagement? MultiState can help you create a plan to engage the policy community. Read more about our Strategic Government Relations practice or contact us here.