Research Your Targets: Key Leaders and Decisionmakers
Early on in your campaign strategy development, you will need to understand the decisionmakers you will be targeting and their interest in and knowledge about Safe Routes to School. Since most Safe Routes to School funding campaigns are legislative in nature, your primary targets will be elected officials. However, often legislators look to the state agency responsible for Safe Routes to School or an appointed state Transportation Commission for guidance about whether a transportation bill is a good idea or not, so you may need to view officials at these agencies as target decisionmakers as well. Understanding the state DOT and state transportation commission’s experience with and opinion of Safe Routes to School will provide insight into whether they may support or oppose your efforts.
- Who are the key legislators you will need to target?
Why it matters: Your first target will be a highly supportive legislator, to introduce and sponsor your bill. Work with your bill sponsor to get a sense of which committee it will be assigned to and to gain any insight on key members of those committees and how best to influence them. Although ultimately the entire legislature will vote on your bill, you’ll want to focus your initial outreach and effort on certain key legislators who have control over when and how your bill moves through the state legislature. Research committee leadership for the committees that may have jurisdiction over Safe Routes to School. In most states, this will be a transportation committee, but education and health committees could also review these bills. Research the leadership in each chamber of the state legislature, as their view of a bill influences how rank and file members of their parties perceive and ultimately vote on bills.
- Does your state DOT leadership support walking, bicycling, and Safe Routes to School?
Why it matters: Usually referred to as DOT commissioner or secretary, the state’s chief executive for transportation often sets the tone for how walking and bicycling projects are funded and prioritized (or not) in a state.
- Does your DOT have staff responsible for bicycle and pedestrian projects? What is this person’s level of receptivity to Safe Routes to School?
Why it matters: While not all states have dedicated Safe Routes to School coordinators, many states have staff responsible for leading bicycle and pedestrian projects. Understanding how this person views Safe Routes to School interacting with existing walking and bicycling efforts can provide clues about how to communicate about the goals and values of Safe Routes to School.
- Does your state have a transportation commission? Is it generally supportive of walking, bicycling, and Safe Routes to School projects?
Why it matters: State transportation commissions are boards of advisors appointed by the governor to serve fixed-length terms to advise the state DOT, governor, and state legislature on matters related to the state’s transportation system. In some states, these are highly influential bodies and it will be imperative to have their buy-in. The powers and responsibilities of these boards vary by state; you can learn more about them on your state DOT website.
How can you most effectively influence these decisionmakers? What motivates an elected or appointed official or agency staff will affect how you frame your message to secure their support. For example, if a legislator has sponsored public health related bills, you will want to emphasize health benefits of Safe Routes to School in reaching out, whereas if they are more active on education issues, you may want to discuss school attendance and academic performance benefits. In addition to legislative histories, it’s important to consider personal interests and life experiences. Legislators who are recreational bicyclists or whose families have been personally affected by traffic violence may be more supportive of a Safe Routes to School bill. Researching campaign donors, board memberships, and hobbies can help you determine who the best messenger might be to influence this decisionmaker.
By researching decisionmakers’ interests and the stakeholders who have influence over them, you will learn how to motivate and sway them. This information is also essential to inform the types of organizations and individuals you will need to recruit as members of your coalition.