Training Activists Across the Country to be a Voice on Children’s Health Issues
Advocates across the country are speaking with the media, meeting with decisionmakers, and recruiting partners to advance their issues and causes with legislators at city hall, state capitals and the halls of Congress. But too often they aren’t sure how to break down their messages into jargon-free language, develop frames that will connect with their audience, identify stories that will resonate, answer tough questions, and deliver an ask that will have impact.
Working with Voices for Healthy Kids, a project of the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we have developed a media advocacy training curriculum and have trained more than 300 activists across the country so they are better able to advocate for children’s health issues such as school foods, access to healthy food and drinks, complete streets, and physical education in schools. We survey the participants in advance to identify their priorities, develop a unique curriculum based on their responses and local or state context, and design and execute a one-day training so they can get comfortable developing, refining and delivering messages and stories for impact.
Results and Impact
Ultimately, our goal is to train these activists to be children’s health advocates on issues Voices for Healthy Kids cares about, but also to teach them skills that they can apply to any issue that is important to them and their organization. And it’s working. Participants are feeling confident, using skills in their campaigns, telling stories and recommending such trainings for others. In an evaluation that featured interviews and surveys with training participants, we heard about the impact we are having:
In meetings with city council members, one participant told us: “I felt prepared to respond to difficult questions and was able to craft my answers in a way that defends my mission and gets back to message.”
Another participant shared that she used the lessons from the training to create her own session for advocates in the field that they are using now around Medicaid expansion. Specifically, she is using the lessons around role-playing and bridging to help advocates have effective meetings with lawmakers. “The training helped me become a better coach so I could help our volunteers learn how to stay calm and communicate a message on a difficult topic.”
Others shared how they are using the lessons and skills regularly:
- “I always remember to think of a story to connect the policy that I’m working with or trying to explain. I also remember not to use too academic terms, but language that is common and simple.”
- “In addition to using the skills in working with the ongoing PE campaign, I have used them with our affiliates across the region on various campaigns related to health equity, living wages, affordable housing and access to mental health services”
And participants are recommending the trainings for others, saying:
- “This is something that campaigns should receive at least twice in their grantee cycle.”
- “All nonprofits promoting policy or systems change should be required to take this training. Refresher courses for seasoned professionals could also benefit.”
- “It would be beneficial for our current board president—and all future leaders—to be trained before they assume their positions.”