Monday, February 2, 2015

The Importance of Communication - Student-Initiated Intrastate "Crowdfunding" Legislation

On December 22 and again on January 9, I posted the first two installments of a three-part series featuring the wit and wisdom of my former student, Brandon Whiteley, who successfully organized a student group to draft, propose, and instigate passage of Invest Tennessee, a state crowdfunding bill in Tennessee.  The first post featured Brandon's observations on the legislative process, and the second post addressed key influences on the bill-that-became-law.  This post, as earlier promised, includes Brandon's description of the important role that communication played in the Invest Tennessee endeavor.  Here's what he related to me in that regard (as before, slightly edited for republication here).

On Communication

Undoubtedly, communication came to me as a leader of the Invest Tennessee student group as the most confusing challenge of all. I felt like someone had handed me an Ikea desk without the construction plans, double the necessary bolts, and a kindergartner’s glitter glue stick. We held everything we needed to succeed before us, it was simply incumbent on me not to make a glorious mess of things.

I am an unashamed Digital Native Millennial. I barely remember my first email and the term “phone tree” comes as a haunting memory of awkward phone calls during my Cub Scout years. Most event planning for me over the years has been purely social so that the vast majority of my organizing efforts worked through social media, email, and text messaging. With Invest Tennessee, I needed to keep information flowing between those in politics, government, and academia across several generations.

During the early stages of the process, I gathered my colleagues’ phone numbers and emails. I called them exactly zero times. On the other hand, my communications with everyone from Nashville were via phone calls and occasionally by email, and even those seemed largely for memorializing dates or unilaterally sending short bits of information. Aside from some experience with political phone contact, this was a new way of doing business for me, but it became preferable and comfortable quickly. Phone calls to me seemed abrasively intrusive into someone’s time. Objectively speaking, I suppose they are – every time you call someone, you’re causing an unexpected, noisy disruption to their life at a precise moment not of their choosing following which you’re then asking for their immediate attention. So, to the non-Millennials that love phone calls, hopefully this insight helps you to understand us a little better. To my fellow Millennials – just get over it, a phone call allows for both better tone control and pleasant conversation alongside talking business to help build relationships.

As for the team’s internal communication, we communicated often and near-exclusively by email. We shared files and writing via Dropbox, a free cloud-based digital file sharing tool, which was the only significant exception to the email rule. I never knew if I sent too many or too few emails. Our in-person team meetings were issue-specific, infrequent, and brief – everyone seemed happy about that. We played the waiting game mid-semester while high-priority legislation moved first. We also observed other related bills, including a bill filed by Senator Kelsey and Representative Durham that would later assimilate our efforts after committee passage. My friend and teammate Brooke Baird, who (like me) had spent a session interning in the State Capitol, did a remarkable job keeping everyone apprised of the pace and progress of all the bills. The Capitol’s website,, provides great bill-tracking tools, although I am unaware of whether or not Ms. Baird took advantage of them.

Our coalition of various interests, ages, and professions successfully passed this legislation, so to return to my Ikea desk-illustration, I suppose things worked out without bolting the desk drawers shut. I leave the take-away point to the reader, but for me, I think that communication efforts during Tennessee’s hectic legislative sessions will be confounding no matter how organized or prepared one is and ultimately hinge upon the quality of relationships one builds with those involved. That’s the only explanation I have for why, during the Spring Break Summit, in a room full of bright people with various expertises, Senator Overbey concluded the meeting by conferring on me, the 26-year-old law student, the ability to have the final say in the language of the bill he would support.

Wow.  What an experience for a student to have!  The nature and quality of the learning experience is amazing.  And Brandon created this learning experience himself.  I just guided and sat back and watched . . . .

I hope that some of you have learned as much from Brandon's account of the Invest Tennessee legislative initiative as I have.  If you have students who want to undertake a smiler effort, I am sure Brandon would be happy to help.  Just send me an email, and I will ask.

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