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A Good Story

If you want to change a policy or pass a law, have a good story.  In advocacy, that advice is universal.  It applies as much to the parent testifying before the school board as to the president of the United States speaking to Congress. 

Remember when President Barack Obama went before a joint session of Congress to argue for the Affordable Care Act? He didn’t present academic studies, data analysis or budget models. He told stories. 

He described a woman who died because her insurance didn’t cover breast cancer screening.  And a man denied a life-saving treatment because his insurance wouldn’t cover a preexisting condition. 

Now, as a new Congress convenes in Washington, its members prepare to consider legislation to expand Medicare, invest in infrastructure and address climate change. Advocates who want to inform that discussion should prepare to lead with their stories.

After all, not everyone who travels to Washington or a state capitol is an expert on the government’s budget or policy issues or the legislative process.  But they are experts on their stories.  They are uniquely situated to share real-world examples of how policy influences day-to-day life – how it impacts their small business, medical clinic or school. 

The health care provider, for example, can describe how insurance companies’ red tape steals staff time meant for patient care.  The educator can highlight how expanding access to high-speed internet creates meaningful learning opportunities for students in a remote community.

Stories like these give life to the narratives that drive policy advocacy.  And most policy debates are, at their core, competing narratives.  Whichever narrative rings true to most policymakers will likely prevail. 

Health care debates are a prime example.  If the narrative is that drug costs are too high, then those seeking to restrict access to medicine will carry the day.  If the narrative is that the new medicine restores struggling patients’ quality of life and minimizes future medical costs, then those championing access will prevail.  But it’s the stories of the doctors and patients wrestling with these issues every day that ultimately shape the competing narratives.

So as a new Congress is seated, a new president settles in and state legislators convene in 50 statehouses, advocates should prepare to share their stories.  Only then can policies reflect the real-world experiences, and real-world needs, of the people most impacted. 

Need help finding and telling your story? Woodberry Associates works with stakeholders, including companies, nonprofit organizations, universities and communities, to develop compelling narratives supported by effective stories.  To learn more, contact Woodberry Associates today.