I have been trying to come up with ways to simplify explaining the process of influencing legislators and public opinion. To be truthful, it is complicated and not always straight forward. So boiling it down to a few take home points would be missing the mark. I will dedicate at least two blog posts to explain tools to use in influencing.
Knowing the score is an important place to start. I say this from the standpoint of win-win scenarios tend to win more often then if there is a loser.
The quickest way to arouse a reaction is present a scenario where you win and everyone loses. Guess what? That scenario is going nowhere; you have lost credibility and waisted everyone’s time. We don’t want this because it is essential to keep a dialog open even when at times it may be uncomfortable.
As we seek gains in improved food security, freedom to apply new efficiencies and pursue sustainability for future generations, one must be aware others may view what we do as scary science and hoarding the wealth.
This is where things start to get complicated.
We have grown our farms with very technical advances and the general public is inclined to look at social balance. We have different definitions of winning scenarios. I keep restating the need for apathy for others opinions because even though we are the economic engine that starts so much in this country, farmers are such a small percentage of the population.
The first part of a win-win scenario is simple — the scenario has to have some benefits to us. The second part really determines how attainable progress is, which is why understanding where others are coming from is important.
If we can describe the benefits for others in common terms, connections will form. Cultivating these connections can help leverage our message. In a consumer society, one of the first questions people raise is what does the benefit cost. For our industry, there is pluses and minuses to this question. Everyone can understand benefits stated in the present, however, often in agriculture benefits are long term and thus less tangible.
Cost benefit discussions are where we often get outdone. When we compete for state and federal dollars less consideration is given to plans that are less spelled out. Where the money will come from, how many will benefit, is this the wisest use of funds, what would happen if no funding, immediate gains, and long term gains are all questions that need answers and will affect how bills are scored.
Besides, if we haven’t done our homework the old saying applies: Careful what you wish for you might get it and it will not be what you intended.
Paul Freeman is a soybean farmer from Starbuck. He is Vice President of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and is the chair of the Advocacy action team, which is made up of 12 MSGA directors. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.