May 6, 2013
The Influential Public
Giving policy makers the cover they need to make sound decisions requires that we understand who policy makers look to for support, or who is influential. Asking policy makers to be brave and make tough decisions without clear-cut support is too much to ask. It also increases the risk that the community will under-invest in resources and infrastructure. The last Branding Update recommended providing support for policy makers by building relationships with community leaders or the “authorizing public.”
Authorizing or Influential - Authorizing is a strong word, and to some this term describes policy makers, or only those people with the authority to make policy decisions. Developing a strong relationship with policy makers is clearly a priority. But utility managers also need to identify those community leaders who are in a position to influence decisions. So, a better term for the utility’s target audience might be the “influential public.” Using this term does not mean that individuals in this group have an objective to influence (although some might). It simply means that if their position on a key issue is known to a policy maker, it could affect how the policy maker votes. Ideally, the individuals in the influential public are community leaders that represent (as a whole) a broad cross section of interests. This means that utility managers need to use this “general-public-interest” standard when identifying the individuals that make up this group.
The Self-Selecting Public and Undue Influence - The influential public is not restricted to those who show up for public meetings or workshops. As mentioned in the last Branding Update, volunteers are self-selecting. They are engaged for a variety of personal reasons or special interests. They do not represent everyone. Self-selectors are surely part of the influential public, so they deserve a voice. But they should not be exercising undue influence or dictating policy simply because they volunteered to be heard. The mission of utilities is to serve the entire community.
The Challenge - Building relationships with members of the influential public requires that you know who they are and are able to peak their curiosity with interesting information and compelling events. Encouraging people to be interested and accept this relationship is a challenge. People are busy. And even the majority of community leaders are not seeking to learn more about water. Look for more information on addressing this challenge in future Branding Updates.