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How Can You Change Public Policy?

May 23, 2017

I recently attended AADE’s Public Policy Forum in Chicago. There were about 60 of us in attendance, including Grassroots Leaders from many of the other State’s Coordinating Bodies. We received great information about the current state of affairs (which are changing every day), issues that affect diabetes educators and people with diabetes, and how to impact policy. I think this is an area that most of us are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with, but I believe the attendees were able to gain so much information that, within 1 ½ days, we were all comfortable with what to do. 

The theme of the forum was “A Local Approach with a Maximum Impact.” I want to focus on a presentation which I think provided information on how to create policy change most quickly and effectively. The presenter was the Honorable Julie Hamos, a public interest attorney and an advocate who has an extensive biography, including her current position as a consultant for public policy and her past positions as an elected State Representative and director of a state healthcare agency. 

Ms. Hamos described how we can create change by focusing at the state level rather than the national level. It may take hundreds or thousands of contacts and visits to try to affect national policy, but we can influence change at the state level with much fewer contacts- as few as 10 or 20!


Do develop a game plan (evidence of the problem, know your “ask” and have a strategy).


Some key points from the presentation include:

  • State government touches people’s lives.
  • Relationships are key. (Get to know your representatives.)
  • Legislators care about getting re-elected (i.e., their constituents-you!).
  • Diabetes is a serious, costly and potentially deadly disease.
  • Policy-makers might not understand the benefits of diabetes self-management and prediabetes/prevention.
  • Advocacy skills are common sense.
  • You really can impact state policy!

The do’s and don'ts of effective advocacy:

  • Do develop a game plan (evidence of the problem, know your “ask” and have a strategy).
  • Don’t underestimate the power of anecdotes and human interest stories.
  • Do master the art of the one-page fact sheet (AADE Advocacy can help with this).
  • Do memorize a short “elevator speech” (We practiced this with a former legislator during the forum. It was actually fun!).
  • Do cultivate a legislative champion(s).
  • Do mobilize coalition and grassroots supporters (colleagues, patients, family, neighbors, etc.).
  • Don’t waste a lot of time and money on mass emails and online petitions: personal contacts of constituents are key.
  • Do use the media to focus public debate and generate interest.
  • Do get ready to compromise. We might not always get quite what we are asking for but we might get something that leads us in the right direction.
  • Do state the other side’s position fairly and completely. Don’t lie!
  • Don’t make political predictions or threats.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers on the spot, but follow through.
  • Do have fun doing this. You will feel powerful and effective when you change policy!

I hope more people in all of the CBs will want to attend if we have this opportunity next year. If you want to start getting involved, contact your CB leader and/or the AADE Federal and State Advocacy department at advocacy@aadenet.org. Let’s work together to change policy for our profession and people with diabetes!


Karen KemmisAbout the Author

Karen Kemmis is a physical therapist and certified diabetes educator, and also holds certifications in Pilates for rehabilitation and exercise for aging adults. She is based out of SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY and splits her time between a Joslin Diabetes Center affiliate, an outpatient rehabilitation department, and a PT program where she is an adjunct professor.

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