How to Distinguish Direct and Indirect Advocacy in Washington, D.C. - dummies

How to Distinguish Direct and Indirect Advocacy in Washington, D.C.

By Greg Rushford

In the Washington, D.C., advocacy from interested parties has become part and parcel of how the government makes informed decisions. In fact, our government views input from outside sources and stakeholders as essential and has established formal rulemaking processes for obtaining stakeholder views in a systematic manner. Two main types of advocacy are employed:

  • Grass-roots/indirect advocacy: This type of advocacy seeks to motivate the general public to communicate a position to government officials. Grass-roots advocacy can be done through protests, the media (mainstream, social, or both), and letter/e-mail campaigns. It also includes indirect ways of swaying the policy debate. Think tanks, for instance, often issue policy reports and recommendations that are (occasionally) read by policymaking stakeholders and thereby shape the debate.

  • Direct advocacy: This type of advocacy is normally accomplished through these means:

    • One-on-one meetings and contacts with members of the administration or Congress.

    • Formal government processes (where they exist).

    • Letters sent directly from private sector or special interest organizations to policymakers.

    • Billboards in D.C. metro stations aimed at attracting the attention of congressional staffers and administration officials. (For example, the Pentagon metro station is essentially one big advertisement for the defense industry.)

    • Hill briefings to converse with (and educate) members of Congress and their staffs.

    • Hearings in congressional committees where public witnesses can testify on an issue.

    Companies often conduct direct advocacy through likeminded third-party groups (such as trade or business associations, patient groups, or key opinion leaders). Sometimes one company takes the lead; other times, an association or Chamber of Commerce represents a group of companies on behalf of the industry. Other stakeholder groups (such as environmental, human rights, and animal rights groups) employ the same methods to advocate for their positions.