An advocacy committee is a little different from the coalition you learned about in Module 1. The advocacy committee might be a small group within your coalition. Like the coalition, it’s a group of motivated individuals who have the experience, expertise, and desire to help you develop a child passenger restraint law.
Begin by Recruiting Members
You may want to go back to Module 1 to refresh your memory on the best ways to build and organize a coalition. Much of the information from that module can be used to build your advocacy committee.
Who Should I Recruit?
You will want to find people who are influential in your community, due to their work or social life. Likely candidates for an advocacy committee include:
- Individuals in tribal government
- School personnel
- Law enforcement
- Other government leaders
- Members of health and social services
- Safety personnel
- CPS technicians
- Members of the general public
It might also be beneficial to approach someone who has had a personal experience with car seat use in a crash situation. Their experience could either be a positive one, where no lives were lost, or a solemn one, where tragedy occurred. But please approach them cautiously. While some people may be eager to share their story to help others, others may find it too painful to recall the events that occurred.
When recruiting advocacy members, one person you might consider as a good political champion for your policy change is a Business or Tribal Council member. When choosing a political recruit, it is important to consider:
- Someone who has supported previous public safety policy changes.
- Someone who has a sincere interest or willingness to be educated about the proposed policy change.
- Someone who is a well-respected political leader in the community.
- Someone who is not up for re-election, or whose support may be suspect by others.
What Traits Should I Look For?
- Passionate about car seat use. You, as a leader, have already demonstrated the main trait needed to form or lead an advocacy committee—a passion for proper car seat use. It doesn’t matter whether advocacy community members became passionate through personal experience (e.g., they or a family member were in a crash), or whether they were educated about child safety seat use at work. What’s important is that they’re not afraid to speak up about the benefits of car seats, and that they’re willing to dedicate time to the cause.
- Knowledgeable about the community: An advocacy committee is strongest when its members understand the community it represents. Knowing the community helps members determine what resources are available, who they can approach for networking purposes, and where they should go for additional funding. And whenever the committee encounters hurdles, a thorough understanding of the community will help you climb over them.
- Self-motivated. Advocacy committee members should be driven to carry out committee work. An individual who needs constant communication to keep on task might hurt more than help you, despite their networking connections, passion, or potential funding contributions.
- Team-player. Advocacy committee members need to be able to work well with others. The right mix of personalities will make your committee successful. But when strong personalities clash, they’re more likely to cause strife and stagnation than change.
- Organizational skills. Advocacy committee members need to be able to keep details straight. If a member lacks organizational skills, the constant reminders of their assigned tasks might render the member ineffective due to lack of progress.
- Open-minded. Advocacy committee members need to be open minded about policy change. If they’re reluctant to change the status quo, they won’t adequately sponsor a major change like a car seat law.
- Kind and courteous. Advocacy committee members need to be respectful, kind, and courteous to other committee members. They also need to be people who honor their community and don’t look down on it.
- A positive role model. Advocacy committee members need to be positive role models in the community. A person can be a perfect member in all other ways, but if they’re looked upon unfavorably by the community, they can become a detriment to the overall goal of achieving policy change.
- Willing and helpful. Advocacy committee members should be willing to devote ample time to policy change. And they should be helpful with things like developing the law, giving presentations during community meetings, and just helping you get things done.
- Connection maker. Good advocates of car seat use are those who have multiple connections and can recommend others who might benefit the committee.
- Pure in motive. You want to find people who aren’t in it for personal gain or acclaim. Their motives should be pure—to see more children protected during vehicle crashes through increased proper car seat usage.
Next, Elect a Leader
Once you’ve formed an advocacy committee, you need to elect a leader. This person can be you, the individual who started the coalition, or it can be another person who demonstrates many of the traits you just learned about.
A good leader must be someone who is:
- Willing to commit their time to making the committee work.
- Always looking ahead and listening to others.
- Comfortable in a lead position.
- Understands how all the committee members can make worthwhile contributions.
- Heavily involved in the community and has a wealth of resources and connections.
Sometimes an advocacy committee can come about organically. When I began the process of developing a child passenger seat law for the Colville Confederated Tribes, I was on my own. I was given the directive to write the law with no knowledge on how to approach the entire process. In order to effectively construct a law I could be proud of, I started off by contacting people who had knowledge of child passenger restraints, law and order code for the tribe, and traffic safety. These contacts for information eventually resulted in a collaboration, particularly with those working for traffic safety.
Don’t be afraid to take on a project of this scope by yourself at first. Projects like this have a tendency to naturally acquire aid from those most suited to it. While I began the process of the law change, I wasn’t the one to finish it. Developing an advocacy committee assures that if individuals need to leave the process, the goal can still be met in the end.