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How to Contact Environmental Decision-Makers

This page is courtesy of the Volunteer Stream Monitoring Partnership, a program of the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota.

Stream monitors often want or need to contact environmental decision-makers about issues affecting their streams or watersheds. Contact with decision-makers does not need to be intimidating; it's easy and can help monitors translate their monitoring efforts into action or stewardship activities.

Here are some helpful hints for contacting environmental decision-makers:

1. Do your homework on the issue first.

Try to find out as much as you can about the issue before you contact the decision-maker so you can present yourself as a knowledgeable, informed source of information whose opinion is important.

2. Determine which decision-maker is most appropriate for your issue.

Is your issue something that will be addressed by your county soil and water conservation district, a state agency, or your Congressional delegation? Once you determine the most appropriate decision-maker, use VSMP's list of Key Environmental Decision-Makers on the VSMP web site (www.vsmp.org) to find the contact information for such policy makers.

3. Decide how you want to contact them.

A personal meeting often has the most impact, followed in decreasing order of effectiveness by phone calls, letters, and emails. Conversely, a personal meeting is more difficult to arrange than making a phone call or sending a letter, so plan ahead.

4. Be polite and concise.

Whether in person or by letter, always be polite and concise. You don't want to waste the decision-maker's time by being unorganized or unfocused. Never threaten the decision-maker (by saying you'll vote against him/her in the next election, for example) if he/she doesn't support your position.

5. Make your presentation effective.

Plan ahead for your meeting or presentation, provide a brief handout that summarizes your information or position, rehearse your presentation, use proper protocol if the meeting is formal, and dress appropriately. All of these steps will help make your presentation more effective.

6. Explain the issue and its importance.

Support your reasons with personal experience or monitoring data. Describe other support for your position on the issue. If you don't know the answer to a question, don't make up something on the spot, but tell the decision-maker that you'll find out the answer and send it later.

7. Ask the decision-maker to support you on the issue.

This is a key step, but sometimes we forget to make a specific ask for action or support, thinking that merely explaining the issue is enough. Listen carefully to the answer; does the decision-maker agree with your position, will she/he take an active role with it, or is this person undecided or opposed? Just because decision-makers may be friendly and polite to you doesn't mean they agree with you.

8. Thank the decision-maker for his/her time.

Too often we forget to say thank you. Busy decision-makers, like all of us, appreciate being thanked for taking time for a meeting. Thank the decision-maker for meeting even if she/he may not agree with you yet on your particular issue. Consider sending a note or placing a phone call after your meeting to say thanks, even if you thanked the decision-maker personally at the conclusion of the meeting.

9. Follow up at a later date.

Send follow-up information on your issue to the decision-maker (additional details, answers to questions you couldn't fully answer during the meeting, new information or reports, updates on the issue, etc.), and request that the decision-maker also keep you informed of upcoming meetings or decisions about your issue