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GovPredict’s Emil Pitkin in Campaigns & Elections: How Tech Can Help Avoid DC Fly-In Nightmares

By Emil Pitkin May 2, 2019
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Here’s a picture of misery: you’ve spent an uninterrupted month planning your trade association’s annual trip to DC, and now you’re at a Kinko’s printing and assembling hundreds of policy papers and agenda schedules.

Then a member of Congress cancels a meeting, and now you’re reprinting materials for hundreds of folders. And then one more time, for good measure. All you wanted was for your advocates to hear about and promote legislative and regulatory developments in your industry, but such is the nature of fly-ins.

And now think of the advocate who’s traveled from across the country to DC. Her notebook is chock-full of review materials. Printed maps of the Capitol complex to guide them around the labyrinthine that is Rayburn, all the while fumbling with paper schedules and agendas, important policy documents, et cetera. This is familiar to anybody who’s run or been part of a fly-in.

Planners and advocates tolerate these inconveniences because, without association fly-ins, effective issue advocacy and member engagement strategies are woefully incomplete. During these fly-ins, Members and their staff hear updates about how policy from Washington trickles down, with first-hand impact “back at home” in congressional districts. The voice of the people is amplified and heard.

Now, technology can help groups amplify their message during these events. A variety of innovative and advanced tools, including my company’s mobile app Hill Day, have recently entered the market to make fly-in organizers markedly more effective and amplify the voices of fly-in attendees.

Today, attendees can access important resources like meeting schedules, meeting notes, congressional bios, and backgrounds on their smartphones. No more cumbersome, bloated notebooks. No more folders full of outdated schedules.

Fly-in organizers can use mobile apps to identify key relationships between their attendees and members. In meetings with members that are brief, you want to be represented by advocates who have the representative or senator’s ear. Organizers can quickly provide last-minute policy talking points, and can even send out critical push notifications to members if meeting rooms change or schedules are updated.

One of the most direct benefits of the recent technology boom has been the easy collection of notes and meeting feedback, directly on an app, immediately after a meeting. Your advocates become the bearers of promises that members make. If the goal of the fly-in is to ask members to sign on to a letter, your advocates will record who agreed, and you can do the shoe leather work of following up. Since memory decays, responses to surveys sent hours or days after the fact will miss important meeting notes and are inadequate.

Moreover, a savvy organizer can even gamify their association’s fly-in by rewarding or recognizing members who go above and beyond to utilize tech tools and provide meaningful feedback for the benefit of the group at large. Did an advocate provide the group an especially beneficial response from a member with whom they spoke? Encouraging real-time feedback should be applauded.

Additionally, by keeping a bigger picture in mind, fly-in organizers can take full advantage of data and feedback received by attendees to better coordinate the association’s year-round advocacy engagement strategy, especially once their members travel back home to all corners of the country. Perhaps a representative or senator pledged to attend an important industry event in their state that can be planned around and highlighted by the association?

Association fly-in days don’t have to be a nightmare for organizers or advocates. But administrators must choose to proactively catch up to the available technologies and advancements already permeating 21st-century issue advocacy. The opportunity cost of slow reaction or disorganization is an amendment not proposed, a letter not signed, a co-sponsor untapped, an advocate who doesn’t see the value of belonging in your association.

Emil Pitkin is founder and CEO of GovPredict, a nonpartisan political data analytics company that provides research, influence, and transparency tools at the intersection of business, government, and campaigns. Emil holds a BA in mathematics from Harvard and a PhD in statistics from Wharton.

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