If you subscribe to the notion that monitoring legislation should be a collaborative process involving university decision makers, then what are the software tools that would make your environment more collaborative?
First, a legislative tracking system should be an environment that lets everyone get involved by making it accessible via the internet. Many of the current providers of legislative tracking software focus on “single seat” licenses sold to individual users. This might be great for the lobbyists, but it simply doesn’t work for those trying to create a collaborative environment. What you want is a system that can be managed by the government affairs staff and accessed by the decision makers. Think of it like you think of your accounting software. The finance department runs it, but university personnel has selected access so they can do their job. Legislative tracking software should be treated the same way, whereby the government affairs staff manages it and the decision makers can access it to get the information they need and provide necessary feedback.
The government affairs team selects the bills to be tracked and organizes the bills into categories to make it easy for the university audience to focus. If the head of Finance is only interested in budget bills, then there should be a way to group all the budget-related bills into a folder for easy review. Same with Human Resources based legislation such as retirement based bills, or consolidation legislation, etc. The government affairs team prioritizes bills by importance to the university and by groupings. The government affairs staff provides direction to the readers as to what is important and why.
The government affairs staff should be able to record what they know or think of legislation so that the audience is better connected to the issue. After all, the government affairs team is paid to find out all they can on legislation that will affect the institution. If they know something, they can call each person in their “need to know” list and repeat it each time, or they can publish the information with the legislation so that the decision makers can access the legislative website and get what they need to know online, on their own time.
The collaborative environment needs to handle different levels of the “need to know” hierarchy. If you have an open site, then everyone can see what you have to say. But some schools prefer a closed environment whereby they invite people to be a part of it and provide user ID and passwords to the inner circle of decision makers. The legislative tracking technology can be combined with security tools to help craft an environment that gives every level of user access to what the government affairs team thinks the reader needs to know.
Two-way communication is critical to the success of a collaborative environment. The government affairs team can communicate the critical aspects of each bill they follow, and there needs to be a mechanism for readers of the bills to communicate back to the government affairs staff what they think of the legislation and how it should be handled. The government affairs team decides how to share the comments from decision makers. Using system security tools, the comments can be made available to all who share certain access rights to your tracking system. Or you can close off all the comments and make them only available to the government affairs staff. The operational decision that needs to be made is who do you want people to share their thoughts with, their colleagues or only the government affairs team.
With a website approach to your legislation, you have the initial benefit of a central place for the government affairs staff to do their work, keep up on legislation as the system is updated when bills move within or between chambers. Plus, your audience uses the same environment to read about the issues and then to comment on them. But the process needs to go one step further. For any institution, the tracking environment should be connected to a notification process, such as an email tool, that allows you to email people information on a bill or group of bills. This push notification should include links back to the bill or the system, making it easy for you to “navigate” the decision makers to where you want them to be. Since you are in a university setting, you know that daily school issues consume most of their time, and the notification process is needed to provide a jolt to look at your issues. Now when you notice a bill moving in and out of committee, and it seems to be fast-tracking, you can push a notification to key decision makers that the bill might need their further attention.
A final thought on the environment for a university government affairs office is the use of weekly reporting tools. Government affairs should be able to inform the university personnel of what happens at the capitol, of what they are focused on, and what bills are occupying their time. There should be tools within the website to create reports with text input and links to bills that are being followed. This report should be in a clean format, with hyperlinks to the bills and easily distributed via email or PDF to those who need to read it. Historically, the weekly comments report for government affairs has been extremely difficult to prepare because of the desire to include links to legislation and it is time-consuming to get those links. But some companies have integrated the weekly reporting with the legislative tracking, making it easy to create a professional looking document each week.
A website with legislative content, available 24/7/365, the ability to publish content, and receive comments, the ability to push information to specific people, and to generate reports provides a powerful collaborative environment for engaging people in the state and federal legislative process. If you want to explore a secure, multi-user, collaborative legislative tracking environment, please contact Capitol Impact LLC.