D.C. Policy Strategy: Recycle Your Work for Maximum Impact

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Last week I gave an informal presentation to a group of my colleagues about recycling—not the plastic and cardboard variety, but the work product kind. The general idea is that in the think tank and advocacy world, we all do work that could be recycled into other formats and products without very much additional effort. This is the “work smarter, not harder” school of thought. Since I prepared for that session by thinking through the topic and making notes for myself, I figured I should take my own advice and recycle that thinking into a blog post that could provide some value for a larger audience.

If you read and write about public affairs for a living, there’s a good chance you channel that effort into a variety of different formats: social media posts, press releases, blog posts, coalition letters, op-eds, regulatory comments, testimony, journals articles, speeches, and more. Often, we end up working on one of those items, finishing it, and then moving on to another piece of content on a different topic. But it can be quick and easy to take the material from one of those formats and convert it into another for a different audience.

The easiest, of course, is simply to post a link to something you have written elsewhere on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. But you can also add a little more value by doing a tweet thread recapping your main points (The Washington Post’s Megan McArdle is great at this). That exposes a new audience to the original content and invites a new conversation about the argument you have put forward. You can, with a little more time, also write up a blog post summary of an event, article, speech, or interview with block quotes, bullet point lists, and links to longer content. My colleague Dan Greenberg recently did this after he testified before the Tennessee General Assembly on civil asset forfeiture (the YouTube video embed is a bonus).

Even a spirited email conversation can produce fodder for reuse. If there is a debate or energetic discussion happening in your inbox on a relevant policy topic, chances are that there is enough material in the email chain for a quick post summarizing the topic and why you and your colleagues are so worked up about it. In terms of generating new products out of the least amount of extra effort, your best opportunity lies with the topics you are already most conversant with and motivated to engage on.

When reposting and summarizing your work for new audiences, it’s also useful to thank the people you worked with or who provided you special assistance. This is a courtesy, but it also gives you the opportunity to tag the content for everyone’s respective fan and follower networks. Spreading the credit around, especially to people outside your own organization, is a great way to build goodwill and ongoing working relationships. Using a thank-you as the impetus for your recycling can also make you seem like less of a self-promoting egomaniac, if you’re one of those allegedly rare D.C. professionals who are not natural self-promoters.