Advocacy Training: How to Make Friends and Influence Policy

As a planning student or a professional new to the planning profession, you may not immediately see how to influence policies that affect the day-to-day work of planners.

Fortunately, every fall APA's Policy and Advocacy Conference provides planners with training on how to become effective communicators, leaders, and advocates for planning-friendly policies. By taking advantage of these trainings and tapping into the APA advocacy network, young planners can lay the groundwork for having an effective and fruitful planning career.

One way in which young planners can affect policy is by joining the Planners' Advocacy Network. Each year, the APA Legislative Policy Committee updates previous policy guides or produces new guides on the most prominent issues affecting planners and their communities. 

Students and emerging professionals can join the Planner’s Advocacy Network for free and provide input on policy guides on topics like housing, equity and inclusive growth, health, and aging populations. The next opportunity to do so will be at the National Planning Conference in New York, May 7-9, 2017.

Advocacy training for young planners at APA's 2016 Policy and Advocacy Conference. Photo by Dustin Calliari.

A second important way for young planners to affect policy is by learning to be an adept advocate and liaison to elected officials. 

As a planning student, one might study the organizational structure and political process that relates planners to elected officials, but a planning education does not always prepare students for the on-the-ground knowledge of how to effectively collaborate with politicians. At the Policy and Advocacy Conference, young planners have the opportunity to learn tips for working with elected officials and communicating with legislative representatives.

Effective communicators are able to stick to their key message while shaping that message for different audiences according to what each audience is most interested in. APA training sessions help planners to see things from the viewpoint of legislators and to craft a strategy for relaying an effective message taking into consideration the legislator’s political agendas.  

Not only do planners need to understand legislators’ priorities, they need to be prepared with data and stories from their constituents. It is important for young planners to be able to relay how federal policies affect the stakeholders for whom they work.

For example, what does it look like to have Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) dollars for urban parks in one’s neighborhood? How exactly are community members affected?

Also during the the Policy and Advocacy Conference, APA facilitates meetings between planners and their representatives on Capitol Hill so that they can share their stories face-to-face. APA handles the logistics of the meetings, provides background information and talking points on key issues, and even has an easy-to-use app for planners to keep everything organized and on schedule.

Conference guest speaker, Maryland State Delegate Stephen Lafferty said, “If you’re going to successfully advocate, you have to build relationships.” It is important for young planners to begin building these relationships early in their careers if they want to have the political support and funding necessary to create better communities now and in the future. 

Young planners should not delay in joining the Planner’s Advocacy Network or attending next year’s APA Policy and Advocacy Conference.  

Top image: Some of the young planners who participated in advocacy training at APA's 2016 Policy and Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Dustin Calliari.

About the Author

Paige Peltzer

Paige Peltzer is a recent graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design's Master in Urban Planning program where she studied housing and neighborhood development. She is currently an associate at Economic and Planning Systems, Inc. (EPS) in Oakland, California, and serves on APA's Student Representatives Council as the representative from Region I.

September 19, 2016

By Paige Peltzer