Do you ever feel as if your projects are subject to rules you don’t understand, made by people you don’t know, for reasons that aren’t clear? Do you sometimes feel that these rules are being done to you rather than by you or for you? That’s how most lighting professionals feel when it comes to codes, standards and regulations. “Public policy.” The phrase’s intrinsic dullness comes from the images it conjures up: stuffy people in stuffy meetings producing volumes of legalistic fine print.

In actuality, “public policy” is made by individuals working for regulatory agencies, engineering societies, trade and advocacy organizations, and private companies. The acronyms alone can be mind-numbing: ICC, ASHRAE/IES, CEC, USGBC, DOE, and on and on. But these entities, legislative/regulatory and otherwise, are charged with acting on behalf of all of us. We are the “public” in “public policy.”

The development of recommended practices and the results of public policy deliberations become the codes, standards and regulations that all of us use in our work. It’s important to care where these rules come from and how they are made.

So, how do you penetrate the confusion, figure out what matters to you and the future of your business? Mostly, it takes patience, practice and politics. Alliances and coalitions of all sorts form and shape-shift to push particular ideas and persuade government to act, or to stop particular ideas and persuade government not to act. Often in public policy, initially good ideas turn into uncomfortable realities. How can you protect your business against these?

First, you have to monitor what’s happening in both government and non-government groups. Second, participate in the process. Finally, you achieve your objectives by building relationships, participating in coalitions and leveraging the resulting network. In plain English, you need to put in the time to build ongoing relationships, so that you can become a trusted source of information and expertise.

To get started, volunteer. If you are a member of the IALD or IES, you can readily volunteer with those organizations’ codes and standards committees. If you are not a member, join now! Members gain access to all sorts of information about public policy developments that may affect them.

Find your domain

What sorts of lighting topics fall under the heading of “public policy”? An incomplete list includes at least

  • Energy and building codes
  • Health codes
  • Energy metrics
  • Daylighting
  • Human factors
  • Light Pollution

Now, no one person can become expert in all aspects of public policy that pertain to all these topics. So pick one topic that interests you, and one level of regulation that pertains to your work, and get started.

But you’ve got a day job and maybe a business to run. Not to mention that this stuff is hard. How can your efforts be most effective?

The first step is to realize that policy debates and discussions are often not as rational and considered as you might suppose. In many cases, positions are adopted on flimsy evidence or no evidence, and defended with gusto nevertheless. So, it’s important to be patient and persistent, and to demand data to back up assertions that you don’t agree with.

Equally, use data to back up your own proposals. Never say, “I’ve been doing this for 100 years, and I know what works.” That’s the kiss of death for your suggestion or objection.

Instead, try something like, “Best practice in our industry is to set these luminaires at an X:Y spacing to mounting height ratio, because that provides minimal glare and maximum useful light on the surfaces in question.” Explain why your suggestion is more appropriate. It’s always a good idea to listen carefully to what others say, then ask questions in a respectful tone. Always follow up until you receive useful answers that include supporting data.

Making these habits second nature, particularly persistence, will mark you as an expert, and your contributions will receive due attention. In short, don’t claim to be an expert, act like one.

What doesn’t work? Showing up at last minute, making “demands” that don’t have a basis in fact, or demonstrating overt self-interest at the expense of others’ concerns.

Do, rather than be done to

Do you want to be active rather than reactive? Do you want to shape the future of codes and standards, instead of just having your business shaped by them? Then do something!

Don’t try to cover the waterfront, just pick one topic or group that interests you. Get to know the players and build relationships; become a source of ideas. Be patient, be calm, and soon you will see your influence take hold. At the same time, your ability to understand and use codes, standards and regulations in your work will improve and increase, raising your efficiency, lowering your costs and impressing your clients.

John Martin

About John Martin

John Martin has directed public policy efforts for the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) since 2008. Martin works with IALD’s members to increase the visibility and impact of the lighting design profession, and to influence codes, standards, and government actions that might affect lighting design. His background includes service as a staff member in the U.S. House of Representatives, as a lobbyist for education, as an electrical contractor, and as a corporate training director. Dr. Martin holds a BA degree from the University of California, and masters and doctoral degrees from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University.

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