Lessons from JazzFest Five Strategies for Effective Advocacy

The guru and her husband were at Jazz Fest in New Orleans this weekend. We go every other year to enjoy the music as well as to remind ourselves why we don't stay out all night overindulging any more. In the midst of three days of fun, frivolity and fantabulous jazz I, of course, got to thinking about advocacy. I mean, wouldn't you? And this wasn't just in a daiquiri-induced haze while wandering around the French Quarter. No, in fact, I was struck by the similarities between Jazz Fest and every advocacy campaign with which I've been ever been affiliated.

Following are five techniques you should use to get you through any advocacy campaign ? or music festival for that matter. Strategize: One does not just walk into Jazz Fest and wander around. Perish the thought. With eleven stages offering up multiple acts, only careful planning will ensure that you'll catch what interests you most.

At Jazz Fest, this tactic applies doubly to your food options. Before the festival, my husband and I looked over the musical acts and decided what we wanted to see in about hour. We spent another 3 hours drooling over the food.

Jambalaya. Bread Pudding. Po Boys. Muffalettas.

See, no one can eat everything. But you can eat some of everything with a good plan ? and stretchy pants. The same applies to your advocacy efforts (the strategizing, not the stretchy pants). Think of your strategy development in four stages: First, you want to outline your specific goal ? usually in terms of dollars or policy outcomes. Then you want to look at the variety of ways to reach that goal.

For appropriations, for example, this might include earmarks, additional line item funds or even report language directing the agency to spend more. Third, consider the competition, distractions and road blocks standing in your way, such as other worthy programs in need of funding (yes, there are a few). Finally, in light of all this information, identify your preferred path.

We navigated through Jazz Fest using this four step process ? I know it will work for advocacy. Develop Themes: Themes help you develop a strategy and stick with it -- even in the face of temptation. Saturday, for example, was "things with cheese" day in the food court. Sure, I was tempted by the chocolate dipped strawberries and the fried green tomatoes.

But I had made a commitment to "things with cheese." I wasn't going to let "things with cheese" down. I stayed focused and the spinach artichoke casserole and broccoli/cheese pie did not disappoint. Then on Sunday I shifted my theme to "fried things," thus reveling in many other delights at the festival. Advocacy efforts can be as distracting as the Jazz Fest food courts.

One moment Congress is happily focused on transportation issues ? two seconds later they're debating the War in Iraq and then the Farm Bill. It can be difficult to stay focused on your issue when 25 different and equally compelling issues are being waived in your face. Don't be tempted! Find a theme and stick to it through thick and thin. Improvise: On the flip side, all the strategizing and thematic development in the world won't help you when the heavens open up, literally. On Friday afternoon 6 inches of rain fell in the course of two hours.

That's a lot of rain, especially when you're at an outside festival in New Orleans on a flat, muddy race track. Fortunately, we saw it coming and headed to some of the few tents on the site. I made a beeline for the Gospel Tent because, frankly, that's where you want to be for the wrath of God. And am I glad I went! Not only did I stay warm and dry, but I and my 1,000 new best friends were privileged to attend a party the likes of which will very likely never be repeated. Every once in a while circumstances might dictate that you abandon all your strategies and themes and just make stuff up as you go along.

In other words, the effective advocate knows when to improvise. If you listen to jazz at all, you'll notice that the artist usually starts with a solid, straight ahead rendition of the song. Only once he/she has established the chord structure and where the song is going will the improvisation start ? and even then the piano, bass and/or drums keeps up the basic beat and composition. Improvisation does not equal chaos in jazz, or in advocacy. Build Coalitions: On Sunday morning around 11:00am I parked myself in front of one of the three main outdoor stages and waited for one of the acts I REALLY wanted to see later in the day ? Steely Dan. If you don't know who Steely Dan is/are I'm sorry for you.

At any rate, I quickly became dependent on the kindness of strangers ? as they became dependent on me. See, when you're smack dab in the middle of a throng of 10,000 people, it's hard to get out. So we built alliances and assigned jobs. Some people had the job of foraging for beer. Some went for food.

Others shared umbrellas (as shields from the sun). My job was to help coalition members map out the shortest route from our fiefdom to the outside world. Without their help, I'm not sure I could have survived 8 long hours in the 90 degree heat. Effective advocacy campaigns rely on coalitions as well.

Maybe your partners aren't helping you get beer ? but in a winning coalition everyone performs specific tasks that keep the group moving toward the mission. And, of course, there's persistence. Votes won't always go your way.

Legislation won't always be introduced in a timely fashion. The food court might even run out of Rose Mint Ice Tea (hey, it happened). Just be sure you have enough beer, sunscreen and advocate motivation to persevere until the fat lady (or Steely Dan) sings.

More information on effective advocacy can be found on the Advocacy Guru's website at http://www.advocacyguru.com .

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