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Finding Commonalities and Solutions With Decision-Makers

Introduction: The Search for Common Ground

Initial Phase: Understanding Conservative Values With the Help of Archetypes

Finding common ground and win-win solutions in policy negotiation is an art that blends close listening, two-way conversations and meaningful relationships of trust built over time.

Voices for Healthy Kids offers this resource as part of the services we provide to empower advocates and drive for meaningful policy change in every state. We hope it helps open the space to advance a variety of policies that benefit all communities, families, babies and toddlers, children and young adults. 

This guide includes both general tools for advancing conversation with decision-makers on any policy, along with specific messages and resources for prenatal-to-three (PN-3) and local decision-making (preemption) work. Our hope is to continue building out specific issue tools in this format as we continue to learn.

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What Advocates Need

We talked with advocates across the country to learn what is needed to advance effective conversations with decision-makers, especially in politically conservative states or jurisdictions. Advocates told us they would like to better understand decision-makers’ priorities and values; they also need support, a sense of emotional safety and tools for self-care as they engage in conversations with people whose closely-held values may differ from theirs.

Many described the desire to boldly name structural racism as a root cause of poor health outcomes and call for equity in policy but were working in environments where decision-makers aren’t interested in engaging in such conversations. Many said they felt isolated and alone in this work; advocates who are Black, Hispanic, Asian or Indigenous felt most intensely challenged. 

Advocates who hold (or have held) conservative political views — or who are well-versed in conversing across political differences — have added crucial insight to this work. These colleagues may be particularly effective in advocacy roles and also as allies, ambassadors, coaches, and/or learning partners.

What Decision-Makers Need

We also talked with conservative decision-makers to understand what would make conversations most productive from their perspective. They describe similar needs to be heard and respected. They also see themselves as reasonable and open to conversation and don’t want to be spoken to in ways they perceive as lecturing or demonizing, or to simply be ignored by advocates who disagree with them on some issues.

The Opportunity for Holding Space for Tough Conversations

Both advocates and decision-makers continually express a need for trust, connection, authenticity and integrity. This is the space where conversation can grow. This guide will show you some ways to find and hold space and cultivate a sense of emotional safety for all parties involved in challenging conversations.

The Archetypes: Tools to Expand Understanding and Advance Conversation

“Without basic recognition of your shared humanity, constructive dialogue — to say nothing of problem-solving — is unlikely to happen.” Bridging Differences Playbook,” Greater Good Science Center

As you move through conversations and policy negotiations you can more deeply understand decision-makers’ needs and values to advance productive conversations — while creating an atmosphere of safety that honors all participants' values, feelings and needs. Values are key here; they are closely connected to individuals’ personal identity and greatly influence the way people evaluate information and make decisions. It’s rarely possible to change someone’s values, but identifying a decision-maker's values can help you connect the dots between an issue and collaborative strategies to propose.

To support you, this guide identifies four conservative decision-making styles. We call these archetypes, typical examples of a person or group. Our commitment is to do this work without stereotypes or judgment; instead, we use a nonpolarizing communication style to more deeply understand the feelings, needs and core values within each archetype to help you find shared understanding and advance productive debate. Knowing that no one person will fit neatly into a box, we also offer insights on how the "dials" of age and geography can fine-tune an archetype.

If you consider yourself a conservative, or a conservative-leaning Independent, do you recognize yourself in one or more of these archetypes? If you consider yourself a progressive, or progressive-leaning Independent, what common ground do you see?

For a full overview of all the archetypes click here, or click the headings in the table below to explore each archetype in detail.

Church & County

Economic Influenced

Legacy Republican


Loyalty to chosen leaders; relate personally to those they serve; believe in finding common ground but unwilling to compromise on conservative Christian values; pride in position earned through personal hard work.

Prioritize economic strength; favor limited government and personal freedoms; financially secure, highly educated; pragmatic; passionate about policy details.

Value debate and relationships; interested in exploring other points of view; open to stepping out of party positions; passionate about details of policy; see selves as moderates but have strong traditional values.

Appeal to populist voters who are concerned about discrimination against white people; distrust institutions and experts; pro-constitution, pro-freedom; want to reverse what they see as the decline of America; see themselves as independent and different from other conservatives.

Why Start With Archetypes for Conservative Decision-Makers? 

We heard from advocates in conservative-leaning states and regions that there is a need to increase understanding and establish trust with decision-makers to work together. While advocates themselves sit across the political spectrum, some health- and wellbeing-related  policies can sometimes be considered progressive. 

We hope to develop archetypes for progressive decision-makers in the future to help advocates understand and bridge the full spectrum of values, priorities and experiences that shape policy receptivity.

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