|Advocacy Priotiziation Study|
Advocacy is one of the Canadian Association of Fire Chief’s (CAFC) pillars and a very important area of focus for members.
With the new government in power, the coming year will demand a government-relations approach that focuses on education – about the CAFC and its key issues – and that leverages the Liberals’ campaign promises and the content of the ministers’ mandate letters.
To meet the demands that the CAFC’s current government-relations success brings to the association, and to be responsive to the new political environment, the CAFC recognized the need to develop a robust, annual advocacy strategy. This strategy would enable the CAFC to use its resources more efficiently and effectively to communicate and influence the opinions and decisions of key stakeholders to advance policy priorities.
The strategy would include a formal annual schedule for tactical activities such as Government Awareness week and budget asks, and an outline of types of advocacy products and activities in which the CAFC can engage. Taking into consideration the CAFC’s members and the multi-level nature of fire-service issues, the CAFC will strive to engage in three types of advocacy activities:
1. Federal advocacy – being the voice of the fire service at the national level, developing evidence-based positions, and engaging in direct government relations.
2. Provincial/local advocacy – being the national issue co-ordinator and promoter of consensus, supporting research at members’ requests, and engaging indirectly.
3. Members’ advocacy capacity – being a source of advocacy tools that can be used by members to improve their own government-relations work.
As an initial step in the development of the strategy, the CAFC’s board of directors and the national advisory council (NAC) agreed to support an advocacy prioritization study.
During November, a brief, online advocacy-priorities-and-strategies survey was open to CAFC members. The content of the questions took into consideration the national focus of the CAFC’s mission, the current areas of work of the association, and the recognition that members face different challenges based on the size, type and location of their fire services. Ninety-one members completed the survey. In addition, during the same period, nine phone interviews were conducted with NAC and board members.
Members were asked which three issues the CAFC should focus on in 2016.
A broad range of issues identified by the respondents were summarized in 19 categories. The top 10 (in order of relevance) were: grants and funding; building codes; training; volunteer issues; emergency preparedness; HUSAR; national fire incident database; taxation; mental health; and national fire advisor.
Responders provided specific answers and gave insight into the various aspects of each issue; their responses make evident the complexity of government-relations efforts. The advocacy needs of the fire service are many but time and resources make addressing all of them a challenge.
Member were then asked to indicate the importance of each of the several advocacy issues to their organizations.
The CAFC has been working on key advocacy issues for the fire service for many years. Taking into consideration previous advocacy work and emergent issues, the survey provided members a list of 10 issues and asked them to rate the level of importance to their organizations using a five-point scale.
The three issues with the highest ratings were firefighter safety and residential sprinklers within Canada’s National Building Code, and mental-health research and training. The three lowest-ranked issues were HUSAR funding wildland/urban fire interface and First Nations fire protection.
To further refine the data, members were asked to rank 10 advocacy issues in order of priority.
The three issues with the highest average rankings were firefighter safety and residential sprinklers within Canada’s National Building Code, mental health research and training, and volunteer firefighter recruitment and funding. The three issues with the lowest average rankings were wildland/urban fire interface, First Nations fire protection, and HUSAR funding.
While the priorities identified in the survey provide immediate actionable advocacy work, it is important to recognize that some of the issues that did not rank high on the list are issues that the CAFC must continue to address, such as First Nations fire protection and funding for HUSAR teams. In fact, a few members mentioned their ratings were based on the impact that each of these issues has for the jurisdiction of the respondent. While respondents said they might recognize the importance of the issue, if an issue did not directly affect the respondent or his or her department or jurisdiction, the respondent rated it low. This means that in order to fulfill its mission, the CAFC needs to always try to identify the national implications of the issues that affect members at the local level.
The CAFC will use the results of the survey to develop an overall advocacy strategy for 2016. The results of this survey are very valuable because they will guide, in the short term, the choice of issues that the CAFC brings forward during government-awareness week in March. In the medium term, the results will allow the CAFC to develop advocacy products that members identified as important to their government-relations work. Finally, in the long tern, the results will support a review of existing CAFC structures, for example, committees and working groups, to ensure they are aligned with the issue priorities.