National Journal Innovation Awards

About the Innovation Award

The Na­tion­al Journ­al In­nov­a­tion Award is presen­ted to Wash­ing­ton’s most cre­at­ive and solu­tions-ori­ented gov­ern­ment af­fairs of­fices. This second an­nu­al award comes after dozens of im­press­ive sub­mis­sions and hun­dreds of con­ver­sa­tions with ex­ec­ut­ives and prac­ti­tion­ers in­side and out­side the belt­way. This year, five or­gan­iz­a­tions stood out for their in­nov­at­ive and proven solu­tions to some of Wash­ing­ton’s most widely-felt chal­lenges in the ad­vocacy space. The In­nov­a­tion Award re­cog­nizes the con­tri­bu­tions of these five or­gan­iz­a­tions to Na­tion­al Journ­al’s mem­ber­ship and Wash­ing­ton gov­ern­ment af­fairs prac­tice.

Swiss Re

Ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tions rep­res­ent­ing nearly every in­dustry have noted the stress that ex­pand­ing policy port­fo­li­os has placed on in­di­vidu­al lob­by­ists to mas­ter and man­age new ter­rain. While the short-term solu­tion has of­ten been to work longer hours to ac­com­mod­ate an emer­ging is­sue, Swiss Re de­veloped a more sus­tain­able solu­tion that put the bur­den of is­sue ex­pert­ise on the sys­tem, via a broad­er com­munity of com­pany stake­hold­ers, not just on in­di­vidu­al lob­by­ists.

First, the Head of Gov­ern­ment Af­fairs re­designed staff roles, trans­ition­ing from 4 spe­cial­ized lob­by­ists with is­sue as­sign­ments div­vied up between them to 2 gen­er­al­ist lob­by­ists with no as­signed is­sues and 2 policy ana­lysts with even deep­er ex­pert­ise in the com­pany’s main busi­ness units. Next, the de­part­ment formed nearly two-dozen Tech­nic­al Ad­vis­ory Teams, each made up of 5-7 man­agers from around com­pany that have a fin­an­cial stake in the is­sue. These teams are ac­tiv­ated on an as-needed basis by the lob­by­ist run­ning point on each is­sue, and provide sub­stant­ive sup­port in the form of mod­el­ing policy risk, draft­ing and edit­ing com­pany state­ments, and vis­it­ing Wash­ing­ton when ne­ces­sary to provide an ex­pert’s ac­count of a bill’s likely im­pact for poli­cy­makers and their staff.

By lean­ing more heav­ily on sys­tem ex­pert­ise, not in­di­vidu­al ex­pert­ise, Swiss Re’s GA team is far more ad­apt­ive to changes in the policy land­scape, es­pe­cially in the form of new is­sues hit­ting their plate. Mean­while, the Tech­nic­al Ad­vis­ory Team’s con­tri­bu­tions add up to the equi­val­ent of adding 2 FT­Es to the GA team.

International Sign Association

Stor­ies are power­ful tools in ad­vocacy but most or­gan­iz­a­tions in Wash­ing­ton lack fo­cus when it comes to what stor­ies are best to share and are haphaz­ard in when and how they col­lect them. The In­ter­na­tion­al Sign As­so­ci­ation de­veloped an ad­apt­able mas­ter story that ar­tic­u­lates a shared vis­ion for how staff should work with each oth­er and poli­cy­makers to solve in­dustry chal­lenges, and a set of pro­cesses for sur­fa­cing con­stitu­ent stor­ies that re­in­force that broad nar­rat­ive.

Of note, the mas­ter story was cre­ated via an in­clus­ive, day-long re­treat that built con­sensus among staff from all corners of the as­so­ci­ation. There­after, the group de­term­ined what type of story themes—for ex­ample, eco­nom­ic se­cur­ity or health and well be­ing—staff should seek out, and as­signed re­spons­ib­il­ity for chas­ing down de­tails and de­vel­op­ing story lan­guage, among oth­er tasks, to en­sure that their mas­ter nar­rat­ive was re­in­forced by great con­stitu­ent ex­amples. In the year or two that have passed, ISA staff has col­lec­ted just over 100 con­stitu­ent stor­ies that re­veal the im­pact that good sign policy can have com­munit­ies.


Ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tions have long un­der­stood how com­pel­ling their grass­roots ad­voc­ates can be as policy mes­sen­gers, but they have of­ten failed to cap­it­al­ize on that po­ten­tial be­cause they fear what might hap­pen if ad­voc­ates go off script. Yet, this risk aver­sion has a real cost in the form of squandered au­then­ti­city.

No­vozymes found a way to bor­row the au­then­ti­city of their most en­gaged em­ploy­ees without com­pletely giv­ing up con­trol. At the cen­ter of their in­nov­a­tion is a piece of brand ad­vocacy soft­ware com­mon in the mar­ket­ing world; a hub for a group of highly en­gaged ad­voc­ates that is pop­u­lated near daily with con­tent that their am­bas­sad­ors net­work can read and share with their pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al net­works on­line. Em­ploy­ees vis­it the hub reg­u­larly (on their own, or with a gentle nudge), scan newly up­loaded ma­ter­i­als, and with a click of a but­ton share the most ap­peal­ing con­tent. A lead­er­board de­tails the scale and the im­pact of shar­ing to date, and en­cour­ages healthy com­pet­i­tion among their am­bas­sad­ors. Ad­voc­ates can also sign up to take part in off­line ad­vocacy ac­tions.

Through the end of Q2 this year, the Hub had 80 am­bas­sad­ors at a cost of only $10 per ad­voc­ate and a par­ti­cip­a­tion rate of nearly 100%. The hub is easy to ad­min­is­ter, with most con­tent cur­ated from either in­tern­al com­mu­nic­a­tion re­sources or in­dustry con­tent pro­duced by ad­vocacy co­ali­tions or as­so­ci­ations.


Put­ting to­geth­er a mem­or­able event in the ad­vocacy space is hard work, let alone one that gen­er­ates in­terest in their policy per­spect­ives even days after the event takes place. Yet, Zil­low, a new entrant in hous­ing policy de­bate, reg­u­larly re­ceives phones call to speak with their policy ex­perts more than a year later.

Their suc­cess can be partly at­trib­uted to the nar­row­ness of their fo­cus, seek­ing to fill a room of 25-50 of the right people, not a gi­ant ball­room. They are also un­usu­ally com­mit­ted to con­ven­ing the right con­ver­sa­tion, be­gin­ning to scope the event sev­er­al months in ad­vance and in­ter­view­ing 15-25 of their tar­get at­tendees be­fore they nail down the event’s agenda. Gov­ern­ment Af­fairs works closely with com­pany eco­nom­ists to put to­geth­er re­search that ex­plores a policy is­sue sur­faced in their con­ver­sa­tions that is gen­er­ally over­looked in the cur­rent de­bates, with the in­tent of of­fer­ing new in­sight and jump­start­ing a con­struct­ive dia­logue with the key play­ers. By the time the event rolls around, they are con­fid­ent in the util­ity of the con­tent they have de­veloped and have formed re­la­tion­ships with their audi­ence mem­bers, many of whom played a role in shap­ing the re­search out­put.

Of note, Zil­low ex­plained that the re­la­tion­ships they hope to build really form in the weeks lead­ing up to the event, not on that day. The event does more to ce­ment their place in the de­bate; by the time it ends, there is little ques­tion of the large role Zil­low can play in sup­port­ing poli­cy­makers on the is­sue.

American Medical Association

Ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tions con­tin­ue to gen­er­ate thou­sands of form let­ters each year even though re­ports from Cap­it­ol Hill sug­gest that they are largely ig­nored.

The Amer­ic­an Med­ic­al As­so­ci­ation has giv­en the tra­di­tion­al form let­ter a facelift, shed­ding the stand­ard 2-4 para­graphs of prose sent privately over email for a cus­tom­iz­able graph­ic than can be shared dir­ectly with Mem­bers of Con­gress via Twit­ter or Face­book. The graph­ics are re­l­at­ively fric­tion­less to build. Ad­voc­ates per­son­al­ize them with just a few clicks, se­lect­ing lan­guage from a few pre-au­thored op­tions, adding their photo, and a geo­graph­ic­ally ap­pro­pri­ate back­ground.

Since the “Twit­ter Cards” are built for and shared on so­cial me­dia, they are far more likely to be no­ticed by Hill staff, even the Mem­ber of Con­gress. Since the AMA began us­ing them cam­paign their ad­voc­ates have gen­er­ated over 27,000 of these Twit­ter cards, and plan to broaden the pro­gram in fu­ture cam­paigns.