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Recently I had the privilege of attending NCSEA University, or NCSEA U, described as being “the premier educational offering for leaders and emerging leaders in child support.” The 2-day session in Washington D.C. was a great opportunity for me to continue my career development. It allowed me to add to my network of child support professionals and learn a focused curriculum aimed at enhancing knowledge in advocacy, child support policy, and strategic communications.

The Instructors

Leading the class were two of the industry’s most knowledgeable and experienced executives. Margot Bean, a Managing Director at Deloitte Consulting, is the former Commissioner of the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement and the previous IV-D Director of the Child Support programs of both the State of New York and Guam. She also previously held the title of NCSEA President and currently sits on NCSEA’s board of directors.

Joining Margot as an instructor was Lisa Skenandore, the VP of Business Development at SMI. Before joining SMI, Lisa spent 25 years with her tribe, the Oneida Nation, and rose to the title of IV-D Director. Lisa leads by example: to this day she continues to advocate for tribal child support and takes every opportunity to have the “tough” conversations, something I personally admire. She is also a past NCSEA President and is the current President-Elect of the Eastern Regional Interstate Child Support Association.

Sorry, I Wasn’t Listening…

One NCSEA U session that stuck with me focused on the concept of advocacy and kicked off with an often-overlooked skill: the art of listening. Listening is not just passively hearing words; rather it’s about actively understanding the other person’s perspective, needs, and concerns. A good listener also positively uses body language and does not wait to get a word in. Finally, a good listener remembers what is shared with them and treats the content of the conversation with respect. The point is: to help, regardless of the situation, start with open communication. 

Following the section on how we can listen more effectively, we moved on to how to have “crucial conversations,” where open and honest communication paves the way for progress. To do that, it is important to look inward at your innards. I believe that effective advocacy starts with listening not just to others, but also to yourself. What issues ignite your passion? What impression do you want to create? By clearly defining your goals and target audience, you can tailor your message for maximum effect. You can add to your impact by mastering your stories. Stories, to me, are a 2-fold experience: the contents of the story itself and the way the content is presented. We have all experienced ineffective storytellers who have relevant information but can’t structure it in a way that keeps the listener’s attention. I would also assume we all know great storytellers, who can transport you from wherever you are directly into the plot as if you were there yourself. Advocacy messaging relies on stories to add context for the listener to reinforce why what you’re advocating for is important to you.

The Best Laid Plans…

In another NCSEA U session, I learned to focus on the many details of planning in the context of an advocacy plan and the challenges therein. The concept of planning is vague, so it is important to understand not only the situation but also the stakeholders and what you hope to achieve. Planning often originates from a problem, so identifying WHAT the problem is would be a great first step. Additionally, the planner should be cognizant of who will be affected, the impact of the problem and future consequences if the issue is not addressed, and background information to help the planning process along. Who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to achieve? Identifying your target audience and conducting a stakeholder analysis are crucial steps. By understanding their interests, potential support or opposition, and influence, you can tailor your message accordingly.

Enter SMART goals. Setting SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound – provides a clear roadmap for your planning and advocacy efforts. Whether your goals are long-term, intermediate, or short-term, they should align with your desired content and process outcomes. I think we’re all familiar with SMART goals, but it was a nice reminder that even though the concept is referenced frequently in the professional world, it is a great starting point for any planning process.

Once you have a plan in place, how will you communicate it? Your message is your weapon – use it wisely! The session emphasized the importance of clarity, conciseness, credibility, and emotional appeal. Advocacy messaging must balance “what is right” with “what is in it for the audience.” A touch of contrast can also highlight the urgency of your cause. Finally, don’t underestimate the power of choosing the right messenger. Someone who embodies the cause resonates with your audience, and commands respect can significantly amplify your message.

In Conclusion…

I could tell throughout my time at NCSEA U that the instructors were passionate about the material they were discussing, and it added a level of shared interest throughout the session. Not only were the instructors terrific, but my classmates brought a wealth of experience from their respective roles, which added great depth to our discussions. If you’re looking to gain valuable knowledge and connect with like-minded professionals, I highly recommend applying for future NCSEA U classes.

To read more from our consultants, check out Our Thoughts.

 

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