If you’re really invested in something – emotionally, financially, professionally – giving up control is often the last thing you want to do. When you’re managing a civic campaign, ceding control of strategy and implementation can be even harder, especially when you’ve poured everything you have into the effort. But here’s the thing: sometimes giving up control isn’t just the best option – it’s the only option.
The Campaign for What Works, a client of Denny Civic Solutions, has been working to change the name of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to the Department of Human Services, a name that better reflects what the Department does and whom it serves. Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that still attaches the word “welfare” to its human services delivery system, and the associated stigma gets attached to people like disabled children, abused women, kids in foster care, and elderly widows in need of nursing home care.
Making the change required a bill passed by the state legislature, and the Campaign for What Works had a good, solid plan that included a broad civic campaign in support of two identical bills – one introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate and one introduced in the state House of Representatives. The bills had sizable majority support in both chambers, and the collective wisdom said to pass the Senate bill first and move it to the House for passage.
As is the case with many civic campaigns, things didn’t play out according to the collective wisdom – meaning that, at some point, the strategy gets blown up and hopefully put back together in a winning manner.
So what happened to the name change bills? The Senate bill did start to move in the final days of the budget session (which is always a crazy, but important, time to get things done). The Senate bill was inserted into a budget amendment and sent to the House, whereupon the name change language was stripped out for reasons not necessarily related to the name change issue itself.
Worried that our strategy had failed, the Campaign’s small group of top notch government relations professionals (who were literally “on the ground” in the State Capitol) told the rest of the team, “Let us take it from here and see what we can do.” The rest of us were a bit unnerved giving up control without a real plan.
It turned out that letting go was the absolute best thing we could do, for three reasons:
- We didn’t have the same level of professional knowledge of the legislative process or the opportunities that might exist;
- We knew we had a great team of government relations professionals who did understand what needed to be done;
- And frankly, there was little we could do other than keep up the public pressure and advocacy efforts to change the name. The professionals would have to find the way to get it done.
So how does this story end? A new winning strategy was found in the waning hours of the House session, where House leaders and members decided to move their own name change bill, rather than the Senate’s version. The bill passed by a vote of 137 to 65. And so it went back to the Senate – where support for the effort was already given. Since it all happened at the very end of the legislative session, now the bill simply waits for a Senate procedural vote when they return in September.
So, while letting go of a strategy and placing faith and trust in the “pros” may not be an easy thing to do, letting the right people do what they do best is often the deciding factor between fiasco and success.