Good architects make good political advocates. Any architect who has worked with a couple or a committee as a client has proven he has the skill, patience and organizational ability to be a good advocate for political issues.
Just as with an architectural project, the political advocate must respect the client. Clients are not usually well informed on the architectural possibilities and must be enlightened. This is not to say the client is stupid, merely ignorant in your field of expertise. And he must be educated if the project is to proceed smoothly.
For those rare times when the client is already educated, the possibility for an exceptional result exists. The same is true in the political arena. And similar basic rules apply:
- Respect the client and the client’s time.
- Be prepared
- Make the ask
- Follow through with your commitments in the time promised
A politician has many constituents and many issues to juggle. As a consequence, he needs information, and he needs it in digestible bites. He can get it from Wikipedia, but he would rather get it from a constituent whom he trusts.
Trust is a difficult commodity to find. And it is difficult to build. As with an architectural project, if these simple rules are followed, trust can be built.
Let’s take these individually.
Your time is valuable, so is your client’s. Schedule a meeting, and be there five minutes ahead of time. If you intend to be there an hour, stop sooner than that to take questions and clarify the points.
Sometimes the clarifications will extend beyond the original time allotted. Express your concern by saying you are willing to stay as long as he wishes, but you wanted to make him aware of the time. When the questions are finished, take your leave.
Know your audience and your issue(s). Your audience (legislator, councilman, supervisor, board) has favorite issues. Find out what they are and bring information to him about one of them. This indicates a willingness to become involved — or in fact are involved — in at least one of his issues. If there is common ground, explore it for future conversations.
Introduce your issue(s) in a way that interests him. For example, will it bring jobs to the area? How many? Will it improve transportation or education or show him as a leader in a cast of thousands? Does it hold the promise of resolving a thorny local problem? Does it protect the community?
When your information leads to improving his position or that of his community, you become a trusted adviser. However, the corollary is also true. Useless information or wrong information destroys the trust. Provide only the facts. If there is a question, say you will have to get back to him on that point. In addition to your side of the issue, provide as much of the other side’s position as you know. This prepares him for possible attacks and lets him know why your position should carry the day.
You scheduled and prepared diligently for a meeting for a reason: you had a request. Make it. Mr. Legislator, we laid out the situation and the position for you. We showed that this position on this issue is a winner for you and the community. We provided you with the names of the organizations along with ours who support this . . . and those who don’t. We showed you how this fits within your history of actions. Will you support this issue in this session?
Before you take your leave, list the items on which you agreed.
- Yes, the legislator will support the issue, and we need to provide materials for him to use in his weekly radio show. We need to put them in the legislator’s hands within the week.
- Yes, the legislator also will use the information to write a quick comment about the issue for the chapter’s newsletter.
- Yes, the legislator would like to schedule another meeting next month to hear more on how we can support one of his favorite projects. We need to schedule a meeting. Invite others as necessary.
- Yes, the legislator is interested in our secondary issue, but isn’t quite convinced of our position. We need to send more information and schedule a meeting in the future.
If a promise is made or an overture accepted, follow through. The trust applies not only to the specific issue but also to the explicit overture of an extended relationship. Trust is a difficult commodity to find. If the trust can be established, it should be nurtured as the rarity it is.