Policy Matters Blog

Developing Relationships: Friend, Foe, or It’s Complicated

There are a number pressing issues that require the attention of many state associations across the country.  It calls to question how to best utilize all resources as we are asked to do more with little, which includes human capital.  We are actively advocating for and against laws and policies, and we are promoting the profession of school psychology.  Therefore, there are times we have to consider developing relationships with other associations or stakeholders to amplify our influence.

During this year's convention, I helped to co-facilitate the Advocacy and Public Policy Interest Group meeting.  The energy in the room was invigorating and empowering because everyone was engaged in passionate and thoughtful conversations.  During the meeting, one of the attendees, who had served on the board of her state association, discussed a negative experience collaborating with another state organization.  This led to a spirited debate about working in partnership with other stakeholders such as associations representing social workers or superintendents of education.  Some attendees thought it was beneficial; others suggested it was detrimental to the causes of school psychologists within their respective states.

I proposed that it is complicated.  After supporting state associations in Indiana and Louisiana, I understand many partnerships can be contextual and situational.  For instance, many school psychologists, social workers, and licensed professional counselors support similar mental health policies across the country.  The synergy that can be created between such professional groups can have a significant influence over state elected officials and school districts. However, there will be times working together might not be advantageous. When I was a practicing school psychologist in Louisiana, licensed professional counselors lobbied to have the right to administer cognitive assessments, which many school psychologists were opposed to such an initiative.

State associations must be willing to foster connections with other groups, when necessary.  Understand that we cannot view all of our relationships as black or white. When reaching out to other groups in our states, we must be honest about our positions and stances. All partners must agree and understand their role and responsibility. Will the group tackle short- or long-term goals?  Will it be a formal or informal relationship?  State associations must consider the reason and the purpose for wanting to foster certain relationships.  For example, for associations that cannot afford a lobbyist, the purpose might be to increase presence and visibility.  Sometimes, it will be to develop a common message or to develop a strategy to address a similar issue.

Whenever a state association is considering a partnership, they must weigh the pros and cons. Some of the advantages are increasing state impact and maximizing resources. A disadvantage is could be that conflict can arise because of competing interests. In some cases, you might work with organizations that are more prominent or powerful, which can overshadow your visibility. A long time ago, a mentor taught me the importance of the art and science of influence. Maybe, if we are willing to influence those with power, we increase our chances of being invited to the table.

Remember, partnerships can be complicated, contextual, and situational.