With Capitol Hill in constant gridlock, many advocacy organizations are turning their focus from legislators to key regulatory agencies, which determine how to interpret and implement new and existing laws.
Before a proposed rule can be enacted, however, the agency must solicit public feedback. During that window (typically 60 to 90 days), organizations can (and should!) engage their stakeholders to submit public comments. Most commonly, public comment periods are posted on regulations.gov or on an agency’s own filing system, like the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System, and constituents can submit feedback in response to a specific docket.
Running a campaign geared towards influencing regulations requires a different approach than a policy-driven campaign. The following tips offer some insights into developing a winning regulatory campaign, from crafting compelling messaging to amplifying your campaign by leveraging multiple channels.
1. Make Your Message Substantive
During the public comment period, agencies take the public’s input into account and separate comments into two groups — substantive and non-substantive. Substantive comments are defined as being of sound reasoning or science that pertain directly to the regulation. Non-substantive comments, which may be inflammatory, irrelevant, or simply vague, don’t require a response and are more likely to be ignored at the onset of the comment evaluation process.
When crafting messages to agencies, it is imperative that your advocates’ comments are concise and to the point. Comments that are considered ‘substantive’ and can demonstrate adverse or beneficial impacts as a result of the proposed rule are more likely to get a formal response from the agency and shape the course of the regulation.
2. Allow Customization
Similar to getting your voice heard in Congress, when it comes regulatory body public comment periods, quantity is key. The more comments on your issue, the more likely regulators will take your message into account. But, if each message is identical, you may see diminishing returns.
For most federal agencies, identical comments are labeled as a “form letter,” and mass form letters are considered and responded to as a whole. Unique comments, however, are assessed individually, which can make them much more powerful than an influx of indistinguishable messages.
Asking supporters to tell their story and customize their message is the best way to amplify your campaign. Comprehensive advocacy tools, like Phone2Action, allow you to create multiple messages that your advocates can send in one click that randomize each time a new user comes to your site. That way, multiple variations of a public comment will be sent to the regulatory body, bolstering your impact.
3. Suggest Alternatives
Another great way to enhance the efficacy of comments is to suggest alternatives to the proposed rule of how it could be improved. If you disagree with how a regulatory body plans to enact a policy, allow your advocates to provide input on what alternative approaches could be taken to mitigate adverse impacts. This will strengthen the value and substance of your comment, and could increase the likelihood of shaping the final decision, while providing the regulatory agency a reason to respond directly as to why they will or will not consider your suggestion.
4. Amplify Your Message on Social Media
Just because an agency is taking public input via regulations.gov or their own site doesn’t mean they aren’t seeing what the public is saying about the regulation on social media or in the press. In fact, making the public aware of a regulatory campaign on social can help strengthen your voice in the process. If an agency sees a common critique of their proposed rule in the news or on social media, they’re likely going to take preemptive measures to come to a consensus earlier on in the process.
When developing your campaign, ask your supporters to Facebook or Tweet the regulatory bodies after they’ve submitted a public comment—or after the public comment period—targeting their official Facebook page or referencing their Twitter handles, like @EPA or @FCC. Or, to be even more impactful, have them target the leaders of the agencies directly on social media. Patagonia is a great example of a company who has leveraged social media to amplify their campaign during and after the public comment period for the Department of Interior’s National Monuments review.
Regardless of the decision-maker, policy, or regulation you are trying to influence, your grassroots network will remain one of your best assets for influencing any given political outcome.
At Phone2Action, we’ve made it as easy as possible to acquire new supporters, activate, and mobilize them to contact lawmakers, other decision makers, and yes, even regulatory bodies. Itching to learn more about our regulatory capabilities? Click here to check it out.
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