Engage Your Administration in Legislative Issues

September 23, 2013 by Crescerance

All public universities have are invested in the legislative process because they live and die by the sword of the state budget. However, key university decision makers may not be able to participate in the university legislative process because some administrators may not see legislation management as a collaborative issue. Institutions of higher education typically put an emphasis on collaboration, evidenced by the large amounts of money they spend on collaborative tools for academics, account, and student engagement. When it comes to managing the information about the state budget that will determine the available funding for a school there may not be collaborative tools in place that are truly effective.

Connect. Inform. Impact.

The best environment for sharing information is one that can connect the decision makers to the information, inform the decision makers of the issues and provide the communications tools to impact the outcome. When it comes to legislation, there should be an environment that enables the government affairs teams at all levels of higher education (board of regents, or individual schools) to publish the issues. Publishing means having the most current content about a bill, and being able to push information to the university decisions makers as to what the issues are  with real time access to these issues.

The internal environment should provide the means for the government affairs managers to inform the audience of why an issue is important and what needs to be done about it. It is not enough to state the fact that a bill is a concern because legislative issues are not simple problems, they are more likely to be nuanced issues where you are looking for elements of tradeoff and compromise to negotiate a more palatable outcome. The government affairs team has the knowledge to understand what the impact is of an issue and should start the dialogue with others by being able to editorialize to the internal decision makers why the issue has drawn their attention.

There then needs to be a means to dialogue between university staff and the university lobbyists about ways in which to handle various issues. Too often this dialogue occurs in disparate emails and phone calls, which leave the government affairs team with the tedious job or piecing together a decision from snippets of conversations or emails. There should be a communications thread about a bill that can be easily retrieved and all the input from different sources is stored with the bill text and status.

Given that public universities and colleges are so tied into their state funding, it is a bit baffling that there has not been more of a push for technology tools that make the government affairs office a larger presence amongst the decision makers. It appears that many universities settle for a non-collaborative environment to publish legislation. The reasoning being stated by a few is that the investment in government affairs is better spent on outside lobbyists, rather than internal information flow. But who knows the value of your institution better than the people who run it? Their input on legislation would help the lobbyists to develop a position that might have more substance to it. While the lobbyists probably still get the information they need, they have to go the long way around to get it from different people.

The case for engaging administration in managing legislation is similar to the case for managing other parts of school operations; you do a better job when you have the information that you need at your fingertips, and have an immediate means of communicating when something needs to be questioned. The model of connect, inform, impact works throughout the university, but it is slow to coming to the area of government affairs. Maybe now is the time that technology should be used in the government affairs office to make the process better.