Advocacy 101: Power Mapping--The Key to Effective Advocacy

This article is part of MoBikeFed's Advocacy 101 series, with tips, ideas, tactics, and best practices for bicycle and pedestrian advocacy.

This article is written from the point of view of an advocate or citizen who wants to work for the adoption of a Complete Streets policy.  However, the general principles work for any advocacy campaign on any issue inside or out of bicycle and pedestrian advocacy.

The concept of power mapping helps you understand how personal relationships, the heart of any advocacy effort, can make policy change happen.

The Decision Maker
At the heart of the Power Map is the Decision Maker.  This is the person with the power to make the change that is the focus of your advocacy effort.  Focus on people: If the decision-making body is a council, board, committee, or legislature, what individuals within that body have the power to make the change you want to see?

It is not always easy to figure out who the Decision Maker is--many times it takes weeks or months of talking and working with those involved.

For community Complete Streets policy, the Decision Maker may be:

  • A Mayor or City Council member willing to champion Complete Streets with the rest of the City Council
  • A supportive Public Works Director or other top-level staff member willing to champion Complete Streets and with the power to build support for the needed policy changes
  • A key committee, board, or commission chair willing to champion Complete Streets

Those Who Influence the Decision Maker
A Power Map is a series of concentric circles, with the Decision Maker in the center, those who influence the Decision Maker in the next circle, those who influence them in the next circle, and so on.

Who influences your Decision Maker?  If your Decision Maker is the Mayor of your City, those people might be:

  • Other members of the City Council
  • The Mayor's staff
  • Other city staff
  • City boards and commissions or individual members of such boards
  • The Mayor's donors or supporters
  • Constituents, citizens of the city
  • Personal friends and acquaintances
  • Business colleagues
  • Members of social clubs or community organizations the Mayor belongs to
  • Civic, social, political, or religious groups or clubs active in the city
  • Media reporters

If your Decision Maker does not yet support Complete Streets, you may need to spend considerable time meeting, getting to know, building relationships with, and developing support for Complete Streets in this influencers group.

But even if your Decision Maker is supportive, the more relationships and support for Complete Streets you can build in this first circle of influence, the more the Decision Maker will be able to give strong and lasting support to Complete Streets.

Reaching Those Who Influence
Let's say the Decision Maker is the Mayor and you are working to develop a relationship with a city council member who is a good friend and supporter of the Mayor.  How do you approach this?

Well, the city council member has his or her own circle of influencers--constituents, donors, staff, friends, family, business associates, and the like.

So you arrange for 5 key constituents of the council member to write letters of support for Complete Streets.  You arrange a meeting with a business associate of the council member who is an avid runner and supports Complete Streets.  The city council member is a Rotarian, so you invite him or her to a Rotary Club meeting where you are giving a presentation on Complete Streets.  You invite the City Council member to a meeting of the local bicycle club, which holds regular meetings in the district.

You may not know the Mayor or city council member--but undoubtedly, you know people or can find people who know them.

You know the Chamber of Commerce supported the Mayor in the last election, so you ask a friend who is on your local Chamber to invite you to their next Board Meeting.  You give a 10-minute presentation on Complete Streets and ask the Chamber to issue a statement endorsing the concept.

A friend of a friend knows a key donor to the Mayor's recent election campaign, so you arrange a lunch with your friends and the donor where you explain Complete Streets.  When the donor turns out to be an avid cyclist with a high interest in Complete Streets, you invite her to be on your Complete Streets Committee and she agrees.

One of the advantages of building an organization or committee to work for Complete Streets is that you bring all those relationships into the advocacy work.  Develop a committee with strong relationships across the community and implementing Complete Streets will become much easier.

How Deep Do You Need to Go?
If you have a personal relationship with the Decision Maker, and the Decision Maker is naturally inclined to support Complete Streets, your job as an advocate may be a simple as arranging a meeting and providing the Decision Maker with the information and tools needed to move forward.

If your Decision Maker is not supportive, or--as often the case with elected leaders--cannot give strong public support without knowing that broad-based community and political support is behind the decision, you may spend months or even years carefully building support among constituents, community groups, and political leaders in your city.

In most cases, it will be somewhere in between.  Regardless, thinking of your Complete Streets Campaign--or any other advocacy campaign--in terms of power relationships helps you focus your efforts and reach your goal.

For a real-life example of Power Mapping in action, read the story of how Lee's Summit advocates organized a campaign for the adoption of a Complete Streets policy in the city.

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