Six Circles of an Effective Coalition

The "Six Circles Theory" postulates that for a legislative campaign to be effective, six categories of people (imagine each inhabiting a separate circle) must work together. The six circles are: 

  • Strategist 
  • Lobbyist 
  • Legislative Lawyer 
  • Grassroots Person 
  • Media Person 
  • Policy Analyst 

Usually, the person in each circle has a full-time job doing the work of his or her circle. Indeed, resources are wasted and used ineffectively if people in one circle try to do the jobs that are best done in another circle. 

The circles can be compressed when resources are short. Indeed, in many past successful advocacy efforts, certain people have occupied more than one circle. The basis of the Six Circles Theory, however, is that the most effective structure is one in which there is a different lead person in each circle -- each exercising different skills and talents. 

The six circles are not autonomous. The system works only if people in each circle understand what people in the other circles are doing and if there is effective communication among people in all circles. Ensuring that the necessary communication occurs is the joint responsibility of the strategist and the lead person in each circle.

I. The Strategist 

The strategist is responsible for thinking through the "big picture" of how to get a bill (or amendment) passed, halted, or modified. The strategist must know how to use the information generated in each of the other circles to guide strategic decision-making. Of key importance, the strategist must ensure the strategic plan stays "on-track." The strategist must also engage in the innumerable personal interactions -- with people within the inner circles, with people in the larger coalition, and with Congressional and Administration personnel -- that are necessary for any coalition effort to be successful. The strategist must know how to analyze and incorporate information developed within each circle. The strategist must receive from people within each circle the following types of information: From the legislative lawyer: the legal and policy implications of various legislative alternatives; From the lobbyist: estimated vote counts for various alternatives and advance notice of looming issues; From the grassroots person: information about grassroots support for various alternatives and advance notice of looming issues; From the media person: the proposed media message for different alternatives; and From the policy analyst: specific policy content to achieve overall objectives. A strategist must also be attuned to electoral politics and, in moving forward policy goals, effectively use the realities and pressures attendant on the need of Members of Congress to get reelected. 

II. The Lobbyist 

The lobbyist is the person ultimately responsible for the numbers: making sure the votes are counted, that they are counted as accurately as possible, and that the numbers are as high as possible (a majority or 2/3 if necessary). This last job includes within it a myriad of skills -- the ability to talk to Congressional staff and truly understand what they are saying; the ability to persuade; the ability to write clearly; the ability to perceive political realities; the ability to be creative in suggesting legislative strategies -- and the ability to stay persistent in the face of ongoing adversity. 

III. The Legislative Lawyer 

The legislative lawyer (LL) is responsible for ensuring the strategist and lobbyists are informed of the legal and policy implications of different alternatives that arise in any particular issue area and with regard to different proposed pieces of language. The LL must be well-practiced at "cramming" and absorbing a great deal of information about whatever issue is currently "hot." Over time, the LL will accumulate a body of knowledge about a range of issues. 

The LL is able to advise on a range of issues because the person will not be responsible for assuming the duties engaged in by a lobbyist. For example, the LL will not be assigned a geographic region to be monitored for lobbying purposes and will not be assigned specific issues on which he or she is expected to be the lobbyist. An LL will have contact with Congressional staff only as requested by the lobbyist or strategist. The LL probably will have significant contact with the staff person (or people) with whom the lobbyist and strategist are working most closely to develop language and strategy -- and will have less contact with staffers who are simply being visited for education or persuasion purposes. 

On any issue that may come up before Congress, a LL would have the following responsibilities: 

  • Get up-to-speed on the legal information that exists on the issue. A LL must find and summarize necessary legal information in a manner than can be quickly understood and absorbed by the strategist, the lobbyists, the media people, the grassroots, and the policy analysts. 
  • Establish and maintain connections with litigation lawyers in the field who are working in a particular substantive area. The LL must be aware of and understand the substantive legal concerns of the litigation lawyers, so the LL may effectively advise the strategist and lobbyists regarding the bounds of acceptable compromise for litigation lawyers in the field. 
  • Be up-to-speed on the political realities and dynamics of the legislative process. The LL must understand the bottom-line political needs and assessments of the strategist and the lobbyist, so the LL may serve as a conduit and translator to the litigation lawyers in the field regarding political realities. 
  • Be creative in devising solutions. The LL must be creative in devising solutions that meet political and legal/policy needs. A good LL is a person who does the background legal research thoroughly and quickly, understands the political realities, works with the coalition to come up with a proposed solution to a legislative issue that makes the strategist, lobbyists, and litigation lawyers in the field all relatively happy, and helps get that solution adopted by all parties. That's good LL work. 
  • Be a very good writer. The LL must be able to quickly come up with proposed legislative language, legislative history, talking points, questions & answers, etc. In the heat of a legislative battle, the LL must be able to write any piece of language that is needed by the team -- including, but not limited to, legislative language and history. 
  • Be a very clear and persuasive talker. The LL will often be called upon to explain, in clear and simple language, the legal and policy implications of proposed alternatives. In addition, the LL will be a player in helping coalitions reach consensus on an issue, and subsequently, a player in negotiations with the opposition. 

IV. The Grassroots Person 

This person must have a savvy understanding of community organizing on the local level. The person must be organized and detail-oriented, but also creative in the area of organizing. Because effective grassroots usually requires the use of additional staff and interns, the person must also be a good manager. The person's job responsibilities should include: collecting and analyzing data from the field ("what do the people we represent care about?"); developing and packaging information that can be used to educate and energize people in the field; and disseminating that information effectively to the field. Materials written for grassroots purposes should be reviewed by the media department (for message); by the policy analyst (for consistency with policy proposals); by the lobbyist (for conformity with lobbying materials); by the legislative lawyer (to ensure no unintentional or adverse legal or policy implications); and by the strategist (for the final O.K.). 

V. The Media Person 

The media person must understand enough of the legal/policy and political dimensions of an issue to enable the person to develop an appropriate message for the media. The strategist, lobbyist, policy analyst, and legislative lawyer are responsible for providing the legal, policy, and political background on the issue to the media person; the grassroots person is responsible for providing field information. In turn, the media person must counsel the strategist, lobbyist, legislative lawyer, and grassroots person regarding the media implications of any particular message or stance on an issue. 

VI. The Policy Analyst 

The policy analyst serves as the primary policy content person. The policy analyst is also a conduit between the politically minded members of the advocacy team and the policy and academic experts. It is the responsibility of the policy analyst to review academic and policy research and assess policy options. In providing policy recommendations in consultation with the legislative lawyer, lobbyist, grassroots person, media person, and ultimately the strategist, the policy analyst must be attuned to the methodologies of academic research, and also to the nuances of political realities. To be effective, the policy analyst must gain the trust and respect of both subject matter experts and political advocates in the pre-legislative stage when policy positions are forged. The policy analyst connects political objectives with supportive academic research, while ensuring that academic work -- including the limitations of academic studies -- is treated with integrity in the political process.

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