To support local government redesign efforts and recognize the innovative work already underway, the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center has partnered with state associations to create the Local Government Innovation & Redesign Guide and host a yearly Local Government Innovations Awards ceremony.
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Earlier this week, I was part of an interesting research conference convened by Georgetown University and University of Tsukuba (Japan) about the role of nonprofit organizations in public policy advocacy. While our thoughts were obviously with the people of Japan and one of our hosts, Professor Yutaka Tsujinaka, who was not able to be with us because of the tragedy, the scholars present had a rich discussion about what is known - and not known - about advocacy carried out by civil society organizations. The research in this area has taken a new turn, as originally researchers used frames established by social science disciplines, considering the organizations merely another form of political interest groups or vehicles for social movement organizing. More recent work moves beyond disciplinary considerations to bring public policy advocacy, itself, to center stage.
It documents that significant numbers of nonprofit agencies engage in civic engagement, policy advocacy, and lobbying. In fact, many large and formalized organizations deploy a range of tactics to share their knowledge and expertise in the public policy arena. To the nonprofits of Minnesota, this is not a surprising finding because of the good work of our membership association, the Minnesota
Council of Nonprofits. But our state is fairly unusual. The national picture reveals that many nonprofit organizations remain confused about IRS regulation, and this confusion interferes with organizations' engagement in the political process - especially for smaller organizations. It also stresses the receipt of public funding does not - in and of itself - cause nonprofits not to engage in advocacy.
Coalitions are increasingly recognized as a way nonprofits can mobilize resources to work on policy advocacy tactics. My own paper presented information from a study of two human service networks and examined the ways they engaged in lobbying, being a resource to public officials, educating the public, or organizing constituencies. The analysis shows that advocacy practice is supported - or not - by the shared understanding among their colleagues about the importance, relevance, and
consequences of such work. While it is not surprising that the groups we participate in influence the resources we have and what we do with them, the existing research about nonprofit advocacy overlooks this central dynamic.
Other papers at the conference were part of a growing international nonprofit study, the Japanese Interest Group Study, which will allow for global comparison. Stay tuned for more about this topic!