Ethics In Grassroots (Merritt)

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Bernie Merritt of Weber-Merritt Public Affairs presented "Ethics in Grassroots".

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  • Why do ethics matter? Research shows there’s been an unprecedented increase in personal empowerment For the recipient to listen and act, he needs to have confidence in the messenger Trust is the most central component of satisfactory relationships, and it comes from actions, not words Because technology allows us to engage more people more immediately, questions about authenticity arise. It’s in part our job to make sure that people’s voices are heard, not ignored because they chose to send a form e-mail or be transferred to their legislator’s office after receiving a call from a phone operator
  • A lot of criticism these days about the use of technology, including web form letters, robo-calls, etc. But these are legitimate tools for mobilizing the public Part of our role is ensuring that people have the opportunity to participate in the debate. Technology makes it easy. Ex: In Montgomery County, MD, developers are trying to secure county council support for the development of the White Flint area. They peppered surrounding neighborhoods with postcards and fliers directing them to a website – from the website people could send in either a form message or their own personal message in a matter of minutes. But because the website gave them talking points and access to their council members, does not mean their voices should be ignored. As mobilizers, we make them aware of an issue and give them the tools they need to voice their opinion An ethical campaign using technology will give people the opportunity to express their own personal views in their own words. For example, allow personalization of an online form letter.
  • Technology does NOT replace relationships on the ground. Good field operatives will know which groups or individuals are likely to support your cause and will have the relationships necessary to recruit their participation. A code of ethics is essential – on the public relations side, PR associations including IABC and PRSA have a code of ethics. Grassroots should be no different. Weber Merritt has its own code of ethics and requires all staff and field consultants to sign it and abide by it.
  • If you are representing an industry, expect to be first attacked when conducting an orchestrated campaign .  Extremist groups – and I mean extremist from both the right and the left – are the first to cry foul when a big corporation or an industry association undertakes an orchestrated grassroots campaign, but they are using the same tools as you.  It’s important to remember that our role is to provide people with the tools they need to communicate with their legislators, and this is a perfectly legitimate role.  Besides, those extremist groups are using the same tools as you.  
  • Best way to avoid criticism is to build your grassroots program correctly from the start: Allow for personalization on web form letters Secure the full approval and consent of your recruits for every tactic you employ – get it in writing if you can. You want to make sure they know and understand exactly how their support is being made public Document sources for any data you are using to support your point of view Be available to answer questions and provide information – but, for the sake of your client, be judicious and understand that sometimes it’s better not to respond Establish quality control mechanisms in your own office Monitor your opposition and be prepared to react quickly
  • Ethics In Grassroots (Merritt)

    1. 1. Ethics in Grassroots Mobilization <ul><li>Why do ethics matter? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A new operating environment: people demand and expect more </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Credibility: the recipient needs to be confident in the messenger </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Trust: critical to beneficial relationships </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“Gotcha” mentality of press and opposition </li></ul></ul>
    2. 2. Ethics in Grassroots Mobilization <ul><li>Technology is just a tool </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Provides a platform to engage the general public in a debate </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gives people access to decision-makers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Helps like-minded people repeat your message </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Does NOT replace relationships on the ground or in-person communication </li></ul></ul>
    3. 3. Ethics in Grassroots Mobilization <ul><li>Hire ethical operatives that adhere to your code of ethics </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Comply with all laws, including lobbying and campaign finance rules </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Protect all trade secrets and other confidential information </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ensure operatives are not paying supporters for participation in outreach activities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Establish legal consequences for non-compliance </li></ul></ul>
    4. 4. Ethics in Grassroots Mobilization <ul><li>Be prepared for attacks from opposition </li></ul><ul><ul><li>You are providing a legitimate platform for constituents </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Template letters and talking points encourage participation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Technology makes it easy for the public to participate </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Be transparent to eliminate scrutiny </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. Ethics in Grassroots Mobilization <ul><li>The Fundamental Elements </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Allow for personalization of form letters </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Secure full approval, consent and understanding of individual participant </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Answer questions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Document sources </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Recruit online; mobilize offline </li></ul></ul>

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