Dr. Artika Tyner
Director of Diversity
Community Justice Project: Clinical Law Faculty
On October 30th, the University of St. Thomas School of Law Office of Diversity held an informative lecture on tools and strategies used in a career in public policy. We were privileged to have Alexandra Fitzsimmons, Legislative Affairs and Advocacy Director from the Children’s Defense Fund in Minnesota, speak about her experiences in shaping public policy for CDF.
Ms. Fitzsimmons emphasized the importance of developing your own skill set in order to be effective in the field of public policy. Specifically, she spoke of the importance of critical thinking, negotiation, and public speaking skills in order to effectuate change, particularly with partisan issues. By changing the framework of the conversation using success stories and focusing on the importance of incremental change, she is able to take a bipartisan approach that allows for support from key stakeholders.
Ms. Fitzsimmons also focused on the importance of having a comprehensive strategic plan when effecting change in public policy. She highlighted the importance of making sure that the necessary people are involved from the beginning of your plan, and being intentional about the relationships you form in the process. Another important aspect of successful policy change that Ms. Fitzsimmons mentioned was timing. Selecting the appropriate time to introduce a bill and deciding which legislator will be the voice for the issue are fundamental to successful policy initiatives.
In applying these principles to her work with the Children’s Defense Fund, Ms. Fitzsimmons focused on her experiences with the state legislature, particularly with MFIP (Minnesota Family Investment Program). She began by describing a report on MFIP written by the Children’s Defense Fund, in which she was able to take a bipartisan approach to the issue by framing it about children instead of welfare in general. By focusing on the impact MFIP has on children, she was able to bring the issue to the attention of members of both political parties, which is essential in successful policymaking.
Ms. Fitzsimmons ended her presentation by emphasizing the importance of bringing legislators back to the cause that you are lobbying for, in her case, children. If proposed legislation does not mention children, she is constantly looking for ways that it could possibly impact children, and bringing that to the attention of the legislature as well. She stressed that those interested in public policy should explore what issues and causes energize them, and always keep that at the forefront of their work.
For more information about how you can support the work of the Children’s Defense Fund-MN, please visit CDF-MN’s website: http://www.cdf-mn.org/about-us/