Local involvement key to a successful policy development program

Indiana Farm Bureau’s policy development season is now in full swing. All good county PD processes don’t look alike, said Justin Schneider, who coordinates the organization’s policy development efforts, but there are certain characteristics that the most effective county processes tend to have in common.

“Don’t measure success by the number of things you send in,” said Schneider, INFB’s state government relations director. “It’s the discussion, the interaction with community leaders and leaders in agriculture. It’s getting people to engage and realize they have a voice.”

One major characteristic of a successful program, Schneider said, is that local members are engaged in the process, and one way to get members engaged is through the annual PD meetings, most of which are held January through late spring.

Members who want to become involved in the process are encouraged to reach out to their county president or regional manager. Information on how to contact them can be found on INFB’s website, www.infarmbureau.org, by clicking on “About” and then “County Farm Bureau.”

County Farm Bureaus also are encouraged to find ways to involve more members in the process, including publicizing the meetings, surveying members and holding policy discussions throughout the year and at every county board meeting.

“Remember that issues don’t have to be surfaced at the county PD meeting,” Schneider said. “They can be surfaced at any time.”

Aside from engagement, another goal of the PD process is what Schneider described as “management of issues,” which involves identifying issues, developing and maintaining good policy on those issues and prioritizing advocacy activities.

“It’s a way to address issues before they become hot topics,” Schneider said.

And the third goal is leadership development – helping members discover how to be effective advocates.

“They become citizen lobbyists for their county Farm Bureau,” he said.

Schneider also pointed out that while INFB has a well-established process for crafting state policy, it’s very important that county Farm Bureaus create their own local policy. And by “local policy,” Schneider said, he is specifically referring to policy that isn’t a repeat of state policy.

Local policy is “more tangible to more members,” he said. “It’s a way to engage members because they can see it, understand it and feel it.”

And, he added, it can be extremely effective because local community leaders and elected officials can become part of the process.

“We have a strategic process for state and federal policy. It isn’t always used at the local level,” he said.