We want to acknowledge and thank the First 5 Association of California and its members for their policy insights and contributions to the development of the First 5 Town Hall Toolkit.
While tobacco tax revenues continue to decline, the promise of First 5-funded best practices continues to thrive. As such, policy education for elected officials in each county is a linchpin in furthering the goals of Proposition 10. Town hall forums are an incredibly effective stage for educating and influencing elected officials and other policymakers. Town halls can be the perfect combination of issue expertise and constituent relevance — a huge resource for any policymaker.
This Toolkit is intended to provide any First 5 county commission or partner with a basic guide to launch an inaugural town hall, along with practical tools for even the most experienced event planner. In our “What’s Inside the Toolkit?” overview below, you’ll find a menu of advice and tools, including templates for your essential in-print items such as agendas, issue papers, and panelist questions.
The best part about hosting a town hall is that any approach is right — whether your commission is comfortable with a tough sell on specific policy issues, or prefers to stick to general issue education. The most important outcome of any event is to make your county First 5 a trusted resource for your local representatives who will influence the future of children's policy and funding.
The links below lead you through all of the tips and tools available to help you plan and execute a successful town hall event. Each section begins with an overview of the featured topic followed by customizable templates, samples and resources. Each section is intended to build on the one before it. Throughout the Toolkit, you will find helpful “First 5 Tips” and references to other sections for related information and additional details. For a walk-through of the Toolkit and a step-by-step “how-to” on hosting a town hall, watch our June 1, 2016 webinar.
Before you dive into the Toolkit, here is how First 5 Counties have used it!
The town hall concept is envisioned to achieve a shared outcome in each county — an annual community event focused on the state of young children — that can be customized to feature issues most critical to reaching your county’s policy education goals. This Toolkit provides you with techniques and tools for creating your very own town hall event! In this section, we outline ways to structure your town hall to cover all the bases.
In this section, you will learn more about the key participants involved in making your town hall a success, from choosing strategic panelists to targeting your guest list.
Ask your presenters to focus on outlining the most compelling statistics and high level points, and offer additional information, facts and figures, etc., in a handout. High-level presentations help keep your audience’s attention during a short timeframe!
Whenever possible, make presentations more personal by showing the faces of First 5 in your community — the grantee partners, community organizations, and the children and families who are impacted by First 5. Real beneficiaries are your best advocates!
Hold your panelist prep session at a location you plan to highlight during the town hall. This will make the issues real and the preparation more meaningful, not to mention that during the town hall policymakers can say they saw the program first hand.
In this section, you will learn the “nuts and bolts” of planning and executing your town hall. From finding partners to help share in the event workload, to doing the post-town hall follow-up work that will lay the groundwork for next year’s not-to-be-missed town hall.
One way to maximize resources and expand the event’s reach is to partner with neighboring First 5 county commissions to host a regionally focused town hall. Not only can each contribute its own ideas, strengths, connections, and resources to making the event a success, partnering also can be an opportunity to showcase aligned multi-county or regional policy agendas.
Ensure guests who are parents can attend by providing free on-site child care during the event. Make sure to include information on all of your guest invitation materials that the event will offer free on-site child care. In the RSVP section of your invitation, ask guests to check a box if they will need child care during the event (so you get a sense of total children when you are budgeting for your event).
Consider asking a high-profile community influencer, such as a county commissioner, to meet and greet participants and guests as they arrive to help create an inviting atmosphere. Also, designate a commission staff member who is well briefed on participants (backgrounds and photos), as well as the event’s content and flow, to greet participants and address any last-minute questions they may have.
It is vitally important you talk with participating policymakers in advance of the town hall about the First 5 Pledge — what it means to the event and what you will be asking them to do. Provide a copy of the First 5 Pledge Card (for policymakers) should you choose to use it. You don’t want them to be caught off guard, especially in a public setting.
In this section, you’ll find tips and tools for promoting your town hall — to attract an audience for your event, as well as to get exposure for First 5 issues and your work in the community. This section addresses outreach through three primary avenues: traditional media, social media, and paid advertising.
Work with participating policymakers’ staff to promote the town hall. They have a vested interest in maximizing the number of guests and the caliber of the audience, so coordination provides an opportunity for elected officials to showcase their involvement in First 5 and the issues. In close coordination with and approval by their staff, offer reporters pre-event (or post-event) interviews with policymakers, as available. Explore opportunities to co-author an editorial piece focused on the issues.
At the very least, this coordination helps to further build relationships and ensure policymakers are not caught off guard about media attention for the town hall.
Build interest in your town hall by highlighting an event “snippet” on your website and/or other communication channels with each planning milestone as the event draws closer.
The Sample Media Plan in this section outlines ideas for weekly outreach beginning at about six weeks before your event. These are just ideas — the frequency and content of each communication is completely up to you.
Remember to include your partners and sponsors in all of your outreach materials to provide them with as much exposure as possible as a “thank you” for their hard work and support. This includes aligning your website posts, listserv e-blasts, etc. with your partners whenever possible by asking them if they would be willing to share them with their networks as well.
Access these fully-customizable issue-specific tools that will help inform your town hall audience and participants, and set the stage to ask policymakers to take the First 5 Pledge. These resources are meant to make it easy for you to customize the content based on the issues you believe are most important to your local community.
These customizable templates are tailored specifically for a town hall-type setting. Each of the five issue papers is written in simple language targeted to a policymaker audience. They include specific actionable policy changes, which were developed in partnership between the First 5 Association and First 5 California, and are targeted for state-level policymakers in the 2016 and 2017 legislative years.
The First 5 Association has developed a series of policy and advocacy materials, including one-page policy fact sheets that reflect the Association’s policy agenda. While not developed specifically for a town hall audience, these materials provide additional background information on each topic that may be useful as you plan your event.
Each Issue Paper’s Calls to Action were written with state-level policymakers in mind. If your panel includes policymakers at various levels of government, tailor the Calls to Action to be relevant to your particular panel. Look for or create a nexus between local government, community or regional policies, and/or federal-level efforts to adjust the Calls to Action accordingly.
With limited time during a 90-minute event to provide an overview and context for the issues, we recommend featuring up to three issues that are most relevant and timely for your community Curating the number of issues covered will help First 5 have a unified voice, increasing the likelihood that our messages and Calls to Action gain a collective momentum across the state. Focusing on fewer policy areas may ultimately make it easier for policymakers to commit to taking action on those areas.
If your panel also includes expert speakers or policymakers at various levels of government (local, state and/or federal), modify questions to be relevant to your panelists. Think about the mix of questions to include (generic or specific, pointed questions).