Influence Public Policy

Through the hard work of community leaders, advocates, and public and private partners, governments are continuing to enact promising legislation and policies on the city, state, and federal levels to increase access to healthy food. Such policies improve the quality, affordability, and availability of healthy food in low-income, urban, rural, and tribal communities. As you begin to bring partners together to think about healthy food access policy solutions to address your community’s needs, some initial steps and considerations can help guide you and partners in launching a policy effort. See below for these tools, including questions for getting started, using data, messaging and framing, community engagement, and building partnerships.

Making a Policy Advocacy Plan

What is the geographic scope of your effort?
Are you targeting change for the state, a city, or a municipality? The geographic parameters of your effort will shape the types of policy strategies, models, and solutions possible. The Policy Efforts & Impacts section includes examples of policy models that you can consider. Use the Find Money & Policy Efforts by State map to find more examples by geography. The Business Models page showcases the various types of healthy food projects that could be most appropriate for your community, the specific needs and challenges to supporting that model, and what policy strategies can help support these businesses.

  • Local governments in particular are exploring promising strategies and policies to address food system challenges. Check out this Local Progress and PolicyLink policy brief, Access to Healthy Food, that offers local model policies.

Who are the key decision makers you’re trying to influence?

Understanding who the key decision makers are in your areas and how to connect with them is a key strategy for any policy advocacy campaign. Researching and understanding their interest areas and how to frame your issue to engage them appropriately and early on will help your campaign be successful.

What is the timeline for your effort?
Moving policy efforts forward—from start to adoption to implemention—takes time and sustained energy. Depending on the degree and level of change you are trying to achieve, each process has a different timeline, requirements, formats, and other milestones along the way. Local policies may require shorter time periods, while state and federal processes follow longer legislative and budgetary timelines. For all processes, however, stakeholder and community engagement should be a critical part of the process and should be planned and accounted for. These pre-development efforts ensure that policy efforts are driven by those most impacted by the issue, are timely and responsive to the needs of a community, and have buy-in from important stakeholders who can be mobilized in the future.

Have you conducted a power mapping or SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats) analysis?
These analyses are important for better understanding the policy and decision-making landscape of your community and target of your policy and advocacy efforts. They can help create more strategic and targeted plans of action, with clarity around who is the decision maker or decision-making body that can most influence this issue, as well as who are potential allies, supporters, and opponents.

What will success look like? What are your indicators for success?
Identifying key goals and deliverables at each stage of the process are important tools to monitor progress and allow you to make adjustments and refinements as needed, ensuring each activity is contributing to the larger goal. For example, your first goal for the pre-development stage might be identifying and engaging key stakeholders in your region—this represents a first step toward the final goal of advancing an equitable food policy change at the county level.

  • Go to Metrics for Healthy Communities to explore tools and a template logic model to help plan and evaluate community health efforts, including healthy food access.

Using Data and Framing Tools to Advance Equity

Are there data to support your effort? Who are the groups or constituencies most impacted by the issue?
Data, along with framing and diverse stakeholder engagement (described below), are critical in making the case for your policy effort. Start by identifying the need in your region; reaching out to partners in the academic and research communities can help facilitate this data collection and presentation. Public and proprietary health data and supermarket and demographic data can also be collected or purchased from a variety of sources. Data tools and mapping can be used to help understand the key health, economic, geographic, and demographic dimensions of your local food system environment, and also to help make the case that your issue is important. These tools help to identify the key groups or constituencies—by race/ethnicity, income, gender, neighborhood, or other characteristics—who face the largest disparities in access, opportunity, optimal health, economic, and social outcomes. This information is critical to advancing equitable policy strategies, allowing for more targeted policies and approaches that can positively impact the communities facing the greatest need.

  • Read the Limited Supermarket Access and PolicyMap Primer for a description of tools that allow you to map your community and to understand its healthy food retail needs.
  • Go to the Research Your Community mapping tool to learn about your community’s food access landscape, using customizable data layers.
  • Read the Food For Every Child mapping reports, such as this one on Georgia, for an overview of how to highlight need in a way that captures the attention of policymakers.
  • Go to the USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas, which maps a number of food access indicators by census track.


What is your messaging strategy?
Maps, data, and storytelling are most effective when they are used to build a clear and compelling story about the local food environment and the impact of successful efforts on communities. Communications strategies can bolster support for your work and raise awareness in the media and government communities. Consider the overarching narratives or stories you would like to convey, work with partners to gather these stories, and also consider the perspectives that may be needed to connect the issue to diverse audiences. Also consider key decision makers you are targeting for your campaign.

Engaging the Community and Potential Partners

Have you identified key stakeholders and community leaders? Are the groups most impacted by the issue at the table?

Critical to success is an inclusive, participatory, community engagement process. Engaging key stakeholders from diverse sectors across the food system ensures that policies are responsive to and reflective of context, are shaped by a robust participation from all relevant sectors, and offer a powerful signal to policymakers about the importance of this issue to their constituents. Stakeholders and members of task forces may include food access organization representatives, industry leaders, government and policy leaders, financial sector representatives, community development leaders, public health leaders, children’s advocates, community organizers and leaders, local residents, farmers, food entrepreneurs or businesses, workers across the supply chain, and more.  

Check out the following resources to help plan and implement an inclusive and participatory process to engage your community in identifying solutions: