Better Research, Better Advocacy

This article originally appeared on ASAE: Better Research, Better Advocacy

Advocacy research is essential. “Decision makers need it so that public policy is made on the very best information and facts,” says Lucy Gettman, director of federal programs at the National School Boards Association.

Quality research leads to quality information, and one of the best sources of that information is the government. According to Stephanie Vance, advocacy guru and author of The Influence Game, government information is the key to reaching the appropriate audience. “The only way that you are going to get the audience [government] that is making the decision to pay attention, is if you are using information that the audience cares about,” she says.

Tremendous strides have been made in research over the last few years due to the increasing availability of government data. Whether you need to research the policy behind a topic, review the history of government action, or identify key decision makers, government data is now at your fingertips.

New Data

Identifying developments in government data pertaining to an association’s key issues is critical to conducting the best advocacy research. The government continually releases new, searchable data sets to the public that lead to an ever-growing array of sources to support sound advocacy research.

Individual agencies house a treasure trove of useful information at places such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Institutes of Health Reporter. Additions of new data to historical data sets expand the opportunity for longitudinal studies, which can uncover trends and highlight critical developments and changes. Any organization seizing this deep archive of information combined with new data can position itself ahead of the curve.

Here are a few places to keep in mind for new sources of research:

  • New Data.Gov Page. Data.gov, the government’s clearinghouse of information, hosts an invaluable resource that outlines all new data sets and features that are being developed. More than 500 sets of data were recently added.
  • New Census Data. The 2010 census includes new and updated data that provides an essential perspective on changing demographics. This data is instrumental in understanding the changing political landscapes in the districts of Congressional members.
  • Library of Congress Blog. The Library of Congress’s blog announces key developments to THOMAS. For instance, recently released House Committee video streaming makes it easier to stay on top of the legislative world.

New Relationships

In the past few years, the government has started doing a better job relating diverse data sets to each other, adding an additional layer of value and making research easier. The ability to cross-search multiple data sets saves time and allows for easier discovery of unknown relationships. The new Ethics.gov website is a great example of this. This site enables cross-searching of multiple data sets that cover lobbying, White House visitors’ logs, and campaign finance. Its real value for advocacy researchers is that it makes it easier to build a profile of a person or an organization relevant to their advocacy efforts, which can include finding allies or conducting opposition research.

Where Advocacy Research is Headed

At First Street Research Group, a political intelligence unit of CQ Press, we frequently hear about valuable information that is produced by advocacy organizations.

A key trend in advocacy research is combining proprietary data with free or purchased data. An organization’s information becomes exponentially more valuable when it is combined with other sources to add greater context and relationships around the data. This merger improves the ability of researchers to find value in information and turns research into useful, practical information.

As organizations become more strategic and thorough with their advocacy research approach, they are likely to turn to combining additional information with their internal sources.

What It Means for You

“There is no cookie-cutter way to do things in this world. Everything has to be customized using the right tools,” says Anne Darconte, a principal at Beyond K Street and a member of the board of directors at Women in Government Relations. Staying on top of the changes in the advocacy research arena is almost as important as the research itself. Understanding the data, tools, and services that exist will help any advocacy professional become better at his or her work by harnessing the best information for their efforts.

Alex Bronstein-Moffly is an analyst with the First Street Research Group in Washington, DC. The First Street Research Group reviews, investigates, and analyzes the data in First Street to publish exclusive reports and analysis on the people and organizations influencing policy in Washington, DC. Email: abmoffly@cqpress.com

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