You're passionate. You want to take action. Now what?

You can testify during a public hearing for a bill you care about and/or you could write a letter to the editor (LTE) in your local newspaper.

Before you put pen to paper, or thoughts to your computer keyboard, you need to think about the most effective way to get your neighbors, your lawmakers and your communities on your side.

Here is how we suggest framing your message. 

1. Lead with shared values. Start by talking about the shared value on the topic you are discussing. Research shows when we start with values, people are more likely to be receptive to our argument. Common values include: equality, mobility, voice, redemption, community, and security. For example, We can all agree that everyone deserves equal treatment under the law. We can all agree that every eligible voter should be able to participate in their democracy. 

2. Promote solutions. People like to be for something, not just against it. When writing testimony for a bill or writing an LTE, include a positive solution to the problem you are discussing. For example, A particular bill would give people the support they need to access recovery services. A particular bill would help us collect data to understand racial discrimination in police traffic stops.

3. Evoke familiar themes and metaphors. People are better able to understand a topic when we connect them to concepts they are already familiar with. For example, talk about how a failure to collect racial data in our criminal legal system is like trying to complete a puzzle that's missing pieces. Metaphors help people visualize the problem. 

4. Tell a story about the system. Speaking or writing about your personal experience or personal connection to an issue is powerful. But you need to take it the next step and talk/write about how your story or experience is emblematic of a larger structural problem that requires policy solutions. For example, if you've been incarcerated because you couldn't afford your bail after being arrested for a minor offense, write about your experience and connect it to why the bail system needs to change. Try to frame your story in a way that shows the bigger picture problem and solution. 

These materials are based The Opportunity Agenda framework for messaging and communications. See their toolkit for more ideas and examples about effective framing and communicating.