Want to Make a Difference on Capitol Hill? Start with Learning to do Effective Research
The default for many staffers these days is to simply “Google it.” While that will help you find lots of information, if you are looking for the best sources to help you form and launch a new legislative initiative, you need to go to other sources.
Let’s say your boss has a general idea in the area of infrastructure or health care. Maybe he or she wants to lead an effort that is new, innovative and has a particular benefit to their district or state. Where do you start?
First, try to identify a broad goal. Examples might be, “Speed the FDA approval process for new drugs,” or “Help states improve infrastructure to deal with climate change.”
Then do some basic research. There are 6 key places to start:
Government documents (Committee, CRS, CBO, JTC, JEC, Administration proposals, etc.)
Innovative academics (including public policy centers)
Private Sector (Industry/advocacy proposals and analysis)
Other governments (state plans or other nation’s lessons)
Media Opinion and commentary (usually came from one of the above)
Once you’ve done a thorough review of the general issue, you might breakdown the overall issue into categories or smaller projects.
Then the fun part – synthesis. Rarely do new ideas simply pop up out of nowhere. Rather, innovators typically take parts of other ideas and combine them in new ways to bring coherence and excitement to a specific project. The process for synthesis often happens in brainstorming sessions with a group of smart people, each bought into the idea of formulating a new, exciting proposal. This may take a few sessions and may even take a pitcher or two of beer at a nearby pub to get the ideas flowing.
Then the hard job of evaluation takes place. Isolate the project proposals and measure them against the overall goal, taking care to consider the political ramifications, the impact on the district, and your boss’ long-term policy and political goals.
Lastly, define success. It may be passing new legislation into law, or it might be a more modest goal of raising your boss’ profile on the issue in order to shape the public debate. Knowing what success is allows you to map out elements of managing this new initiative.
For any significant project, elements may include media, coalitions, Member to Member, District, and other strategies. Dome will be offering ideas on these and other elements in future blog posts.