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Get Involved In Policy And Legislative Solutions

Aquatic Hitchhikers, Aquatic Recreation and the Public Policy Process:
If we want to continue to have places to recreate, each of us has to get involved. Also, our participation in public policy processes can help protect the significant economic and social benefits that aquatic recreational activities generate for our country.

Aquatic hitchhikers have probably made the most significant impacts to the Great Lakes Region. As the largest inland, freshwater system in the U.S., many economic sectors rely on the waters of the Great Lakes. Recreational activities like fishing, boating, SCUBA diving and waterfowl hunting rely on the region's natural aquatic resources. In addition, commercial uses including the industrial use of water, water treatment and international shipping depend on the Great Lakes for their bottom line. Aquatic hitchhikers have affected all of these interests. Also, many overlapping authorities have jurisdiction in the Great Lakes. All of these competing interests and multiple regulating agencies make for a very complex situation. However, through extensive public involvement processes and collaborative decision-making, all of these players have worked together to establish and implement regional policies that address aquatic nuisance species. The Great Lakes region is a good example of having the input from multiple stakeholders to develop and implement a regional plan of action to address the complex problem of aquatic hitchhikers. A similar plan of action can address the issue in your area if you are willing to get involved.

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Easy Ways to Participate in Public Policy Processes:
Policy and legislative solutions are an important aspect of all natural resource issues. Within these solutions is the critical component known as stakeholder input. As a foundation of our governmental system, stakeholder input or public participation is essential for producing sound decisions and solutions. Therefore, as active users of our water resources, it is important to participate in the public decision-making processes that affect your water resources.

Citizens have many opportunities to participate in our governmental processes. The best opportunities are the least utilized and respected; however, they can be some of the most effective ways to make your concerns heard.
  • Voting. Support and elect officials who support environmental protection. Attend community election forums and town meetings where candidates discuss their views and find out how they stand on local, regional, state, national, and global environmental issues. Monitor a candidate's voting record and compile voting charts on officials running for re-election to help inform the general public. Request that first-time candidates, who are without a voting record, complete an environmental survey. (International Year of the Ocean Homepage. 1998.)
  • Garnering support by writing a brief and concise letter to a newspaper editor: Suggest actions that others can take to assist your cause. Elected officials and decision- makers scan the letters-to-the-editor section to follow public opinion on current issues
  • Letter writing to elected officials (local, state, and federal) and to environmental, regulatory agencies is one of the simplest and most effective ways to influence pubic policy. The best time to call or write is when decisions are being made. Write legislators before a vote on a bill. Write environmental agencies when a regulation has been proposed. Follow the news and read to keep track of what legislation is being considered and when it will be discussed.

A Congressman's suggestions for effective letter-writing:
  • Address it properly.
  • Identify the bill or issue by number or popular name.
  • The letter should be timely (the letter should arrive while there is still time for officials to take action, i.e., before a vote).
  • Focus on your representatives.
  • Be brief and concise.
  • Ask for a response; don't hesitate to ask questions, and request clarification to an equivocal response.
  • Write your own views. A personal letter including your own experiences and observations is more effective than a form letter or petition.
  • Give your reasons for taking a stand. Your legislators or government officials may not know all the effects of the bill and what it may mean to an important segment of their constituency.
  • Show understanding. Indicate an awareness of the proposed bill, regulation, or ordinance and its potential impacts within your community.
  • Be constructive and offer alternative solutions.
  • Share expert knowledge with your representatives. Well-researched information is appreciated.
  • Ask for specific actions to be taken such as cosponsoring a bill or supporting an amendment.
  • Say "well done" when it is deserved. Remember to thank representatives for their efforts. Expressing disagreement politely may help on a related issue later.
  • Some don'ts include:
    • Don't make threats or promises
    • Don't berate your representatives.
    • Don't pretend to wield vast political influence.

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Become Aware of How Public Policy Decisions are Made:
To get the most out of your desire to become involved with public policy decision-making, it is important to understand the processes by which decisions are made. Your knowledge of these processes will allow you to leverage the most from your opportunity to provide input.

Regardless of the issue, citizens and stakeholders have multiple opportunities to participate throughout a typical *public process. However, the earlier you become involved, the more you can influence a policy solution. The following figure illustrates a systematic process for working through a public issue.* This cyclical evolution shows the various stages a public agency goes through to define, implement and evaluate a potential solution. By becoming aware of this process, you can provide input in helping the responsible agency to arrive at desirable solution.

Phases of Issue Evolution

Adapted from Charles Gratto, 1973
Issue Evolution-Educational Intervention Model

It is important to keep in mind that some or all stages of this evolutionary process may be formally acknowledged and managed by a public agency. Also, it is wise to assume that the responsible public agency may solicit and manage their public input process using different models and techniques. So, these stages may be described differently or laid out in a unique process

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Public Policy Decision-Making Process Model*

Source: Singletary, Loretta. Cooperative Educator, University of Nevada Reno Cooperative Extension Service. WESTERN RESOURCE ISSUES EDUCATION SERIES - No. 2, Fact Sheet 97-24, "Selecting a Process for Issues Education."

Stage 1 - Awareness: Citizens with an interest or stake in an issue (stakeholders) increase their awareness of the issue. Awareness emerges through informal discussions, sporadic complaints, or in extreme circumstances, litigation forcing action on an issue. In the awareness stage, the process offers the public an initial opportunity to exchange viewpoints about a concern(s). This exchange helps citizens clarify concerns by legitimizing their complaints, hearing about how others are affected by the same issue, and separating rumor from fact.

Stage 2 - Involvement: Other stakeholders are identified who are affected by the issue but are not yet involved in discussions. Citizens may also identify information specialists to provide facts about the issue and who might help identify other stakeholders.

Stage 3 - Issue Clarification: Clarifying the concern and framing it formally as a public issue is the goal in the third stage of the issue evolution cycle. Stakeholders may exchange individual perceptions of the problem through focus group interviews, panel discussions, public forums (whole group input), and/or study groups. Knowledge-based experts on the issue may be invited to conduct or coordinate scientific research and share research results with the public.

Stage 4 - Alternative Identification: As the issue is clarified through the educational process, stakeholders identify and/or create alternatives to resolve the issue. In addition to scientific or technical information provided by subject matter specialists, stakeholders may conduct their own research to identify alternatives. Citizen research may include: reviews of journal articles, books, videos; citizen surveys, and case studies of areas with similar issues. Ideally, the alternatives generated are based on factual, objective information combined with an effective exchange of individual views, ideas, and values.

Stage 5 - Consequence Analysis: Citizens examine carefully the consequences of the alternatives created in stage 4. This involves looking at the measurable costs and benefits of alter-natives in terms of, for example, time, dollars, technical feasibility, and human and physical resources required. In addition to economic consequences, social consequences must be considered as well. Potential losses to public welfare are difficult to measure, but provide important information to consider when weighing consequences of public action.

Stage 6 - Choice: After careful consideration of alternatives and consequences of a particular action, stakeholders can provide informed input as how to address the issue. In making a choice, stakeholders learn or improve their understanding of how public choice is shaped into public policy. This may involve learning how to influence elected officials as well as individuals who influence decisions behind-the-scenes.

Ideally, stakeholders are in agreement that the choice represents the best possible way of addressing the issue. They must be open, however, to working through conflicts that might arise among disagreeing interests. Hard-line advocates of a particular choice must learn that there are advantages in negotiating and collaborating with their opponents. If they refuse to negotiate, the issue may end up unresolved. Therefore, striving for a solution that satisfies all interests is of interest to all stakeholders.

Stage 7 - Implementation: In this stage, the choice is implemented in the form of a policy or formal agreement of understanding. Stakeholders need to understand how the agreement or new policy will be implemented. They need to look for changes in public opinion that might occur during its implementation. Individual concerns may arise during implementation that includes, for example, possible third party injuries. This possibility emphasizes the importance of including a broad and diverse array of stakeholders in the awareness and involvement stages of the issue evolution cycle. It also underlines the importance of examining carefully the consequences of given alternatives.

Stage 8 - Evaluation: This final stage of the cycle evaluates the effectiveness of the choice or implemented policy. At this stage stakeholders may ask:
  • Is the policy or action is taking care of the problem?
  • Does the public agree that the policy is effective? Why?
  • Is it perceived generally as ineffective? Why?
  • What can be done to improve it?
The final stage offers an additional opportunity to evaluate the entire issue education process. Stakeholders may ask:
  • What happened at each stage?
  • Why did this happen?
  • What else might have happened?
  • Has the situation improved?
  • What can we do to improve the situation?
In a sense, stage 8, offers a chance to begin the cycle anew--with more information and experience begin clarifying concerns.

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Common Hitchhikers

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