Most of us are familiar with ways to reduce our individual environmental footprint but how do we help influence sustainable policies?
Figuring out how to navigate through the bureaucracy and effectively reach policymakers can be a daunting task. Fortunately, there are a few ways we as constituents can reach out and make our voices heard.
Most methods of communication are fairly straightforward, but some do require more effort on our part. An important aspect to consider is the effectiveness of each method of communication.
[Please note: This will vary depending on your country and the political system. There is also unfortunately a lack of research in this area, but there are some studies and things we can learn to improve our political impact.]
Many of us are on social media, which makes it an easy mode of communication. Social media isn’t the most effective way to reach policymakers, but it is still a valuable tool we can use to make our voices heard. Spreading awareness of an issue is an important aspect to instigating successful policy change. The more constituents that are invested in an issue, the more pressure there is for elected representatives to perform accordingly.
There is some evidence showing that more elected officials are using social media, such as Twitter, as a means of gauging support for certain issues. A study conducted in 2015 found that policymakers do use Twitter as a means of gathering scientists’ views towards certain policy proposals. While most of us probably aren’t scientists, there is still plenty of potential to use social media effectively to communicate our policy preferences.
Online petitions have been around for many years at this point, but the research on their effectiveness has only recently been closely evaluated. A 2020 study looking at the effectiveness of e-petitions in the British Parliament found that only 23% of survey respondents (MPs which opted into the survey) believed that e-petitions carry any influence passing legislation through Parliament. Many respondents in the survey expressed that direct communication between constituent and MP is their preferred way to hear about constituent concerns.
This isn’t to say that e-petitions aren’t useful. Other respondents in this study said they found e-petitions useful because they helped MPs gauge support for issues. It may be a good idea to follow up any petition you sign with a direct contact with your policymaker – a short email letting them know that you’re a constituent and signed a petition for policy change can go a long way.
Email is another great way to communicate with policymakers about changes to sustainability policies. A study conducted in 2009 looked at how email influences a policymaker’s voting decision. The study showed that direct communication via email between constituent and policymaker had a substantial influence on the policymaker’s voting behavior.
A couple of notes about emailing policymakers;
- Keep your message short and concise.
- Try to avoid using form-style messages. These can be easy to spot because they generally have vague language and aren’t very personal.
- A personal message is more likely to be read than a bulk-style message.
Besides email, phone calls are also a great way to voice your opinion on sustainability policies. A field experiment conducted in 2015 examined the effectiveness of direct communication between constituent and policymaker through phone calls. In their experiment, the authors found an eleven to twelve percent increase in the probability that a lawmaker would support a specific piece of legislation if they were called about the issue. It’s important to note that this study used exclusively phone communication as the method of contact between representative and constituent. Per the study authors, phone calls are perceived as requiring more effort on the part of the constituent than emails, thus making them more effective.
If you do call, you likely won’t be able to directly talk to your elected official. Instead, you’ll be prompted to either leave a message or speak with an aide or intern. Plan what you’re going to say before you call and be sure to keep it short and simple.
Finally, protests are another means of communicating with policymakers. Protests require the biggest time investment, but are definitely catalysts for change. A 2007 study looked at protests focusing on environmental policy reform from the late 1960s through the late 1990s. The study revealed that the protests were effective at instigating policy reform because they brought environmental issues to the forefront of the public’s mind. Lawmakers are more willing to address an issue if a large portion of their constituency are watching.
What to Say
Contacting elected officials and policymakers can be a daunting task, but here are a few things to consider including in your message.
Your name and contact information
The official you’re contacting needs to know you’re a real person.
This is important. A policymaker cares about the opinions of his or her constituents. If you don’t live in a policymaker’s district/province/municipality, your opinion will likely be ignored because you aren’t a direct constituent.
Make sure you clearly state your opinion on the issue. It’s a good idea to include why this is an important enough issue that you’re taking the time to reach out. Cite facts from credible sources.
If there is a piece of legislation currently in progress, express your support/lack of support for that particular piece of legislation. If there isn’t a solution or a tentative solution, suggest one if you have something you think is viable.
It’s also a good idea to keep your message as short and concise as possible, so the reader or listener doesn’t lose interest.