Selecting Issues

selectIssues-01One of the first lessons learned is to limit your issues. We are more effective if we focus on no more than 2 or 3 key issues. It is very hard to limit yourself. There are a lot of exciting issues that the churches in your state are already working. There are also a lot of passionate UUs eagerly looking to expand their work. Even after issues have been selected and the advocacy plan is in place, a new issue may unexpectedly come up – a crisis in the state, a back burner issue moves to the forefront.
First establish a process for selecting issues. The process should be clearly defined and easily explained. Consistent with our principles, the process should be to seek broad input, but also leave opportunities for us to explore our values. You also want to have the ability to act on immediate issues. Therefore, regardless of the selection process, you may want give the Board the ability to act in certain instances where the Board determines it is appropriate for UUs to take action on timely matters that may not be encompassed by the Network’s officially adopted issue(s).

Additional information is available about issue selection in the Social Justice Empowerment Handbook. at In the following section of that document, there is an exercise for congregations that can be easily applied to a State Network:

II. Social Justice Congregational Identity and Community Outreach – Page 22
Choosing an Issue:  Determining Grounding, Accountability, Fit, & Opportunity

Questions to be considered
  • Does the issue have authentic and deep Unitarian Universalist roots? Does it link to the current identity and theology/philosophy of Unitarian Universalists?
  • Is the issue of concern to marginalized groups in the congregation and in the community? Is anti-oppression built into the project and its way of operating?
  • Is there a match between the Network’s resources, aspirations, and ability to make a real difference?
  • Is there likelihood that the Network can be a respected participant in the public dialogue on this issue? Are there allies the Network can work with? Is this a “hot” issue and a good time to act? Can the Network make a real difference? Are there any UUA/UUSC resources that the Network can use or join?
Models for selecting issues
  • Survey your congregations about their interest. The goal of surveying is to get information “from UUs in the pews.” Survey results are presented to the Board of Directors for final determination. (See Criteria Tab)
  • Hold member meetings and vote the issues as part of the annual/legislative meeting. New Hampshire, several years ago, held a legislative meeting and presented several issues for consideration. An advocate of the issue presented each issue. The presentations were taped and copies sent to each congregation in the state (approximately 20). The churches were then asked to vote on the issues that they wanted the network to address. Issues were selected based on the vote.
  • In Minnesota, issues are determined by working groups that are organized at the grassroots level.
  • Work on one collaborative issue. At the 2006 annual meeting of CUUSAN (formerly the UU State Advocacy Networks) each network agreed to hold open a ‘collaborative’ slot on their respective agenda of issues. The networks selected the issue of ‘global warming’ because this was an issue where the UUA and UUSC were also working and could also collaborate with the Ministry for Earth. CUUSAN also committed to continuing the use of a collaborative issue. The issue is reconsidered annually and may also include an incubator issue – that is, one for study only.
Suggested criteria for selecting collaborative issues:

The order is based on brainstorming results.  Highlighted items signifies those criteria deemed most significant:

  • “Hot issue” for UUs
  • “Hot issue” for the general public
  • Measurable goals with achievable opportunities for success
  • UUA and UUSC interest
  • Appeals to voters of every age
  • Appeals to voters under 40
  • Identify the issues on which allies are working
  • Define funders interests
  • Issue of interest to UUs
  • Potential short-term impact
  • Longer term impact- two or three years
  • Good fit with UU theology and history
  • Issue that builds alliances across race and class
  • Identify the issue(s) as liberal
  • Translates into a state issue
  • Offers numerous ways to participate
  • Provides an opportunity for UU leadership
  • Bring the issue(s) to General Assembly
  • Provides an opportunity for intentional collaboration
  • Statistical justification; survey
  • Education and spiritual UU foundation already exists

The UUA in its Social Justice Empowerment Handbook, Section II, offers more details on issue selection. This handbook, which was written for congregational use, is easily adapted to a State Network.