Guide to Developing Research Briefs & Legislative Bill Summaries, Including Protocol and Resources

If you are interested in working on Research Briefs, Legislative Bill Summaries, or other research products, please review this page to see the work that needs to be done. If it sounds like something you want to do, contact Katie Bruell our Research Team Leader. Our research priorities change all the time, so please write to Katie Bruell:

While we sometimes have research needs that emerge unexpectedly from the flow of current events, we also have some ongoing research work that helps us build our capacity and our resources to inform and educate our members and those we are trying to influence. Obviously, if we publish research briefs and other documents representing Retake Our Democracy and its values and priorities, it is important that our work represent those values and priorities. Hence the importance of this guide.

Purpose of Research Briefs & Legislative Bill Summaries:  To provide concise, fact-based, information on a clearly defined issue designed to educate our volunteers, motivate action, and influence our legislators, the Governor, members of her cabinet and key staff in state and local governance roles. An important use of research briefs is to provide information to our network so that activists can take individual action, influencing friends, writing letters to the editor, and writing to their elected officials or to regulatory commissions. Often briefs can be proactive, describing concepts that could become regulations or legislation. But the most important brief Retake produces are “bill summaries” in advance of each legislative session.

Purpose of the Research Protocol:  The purpose of the protocol is to ensure the integrity and quality of the work, to clarify Retake priorities, values, and political perspective, and to provide researchers a clear target and reduce the amount of editing required on research brief drafts.

Here is what is included in this guide:

  • A description of the purpose of Research Briefs and Legislative Bill Summaries (above);
  • Guidelines for what to include in a brief, contents/structure, scope, and length;
  • The research development and coordination process, including the editing and publishing process;
  • A list of immediate priorities for research — as noted above, these priorities change frequently, so check in with Katie Bruell.

General Guidelines for Each Research Piece

Political Perspective, Values, and Priorities

It’s important to know that when you do research for Retake Our Democracy, your work must reflect the priorities, values, and political perspective of Retake. We are primarily an advocacy organization and, as such, our research goal is to support that advocacy. While in our briefs we may incorporate differing perspectives, the purpose is to provide counter-arguments that support our priorities. It is not our goal to report both “sides” as there is plenty of that in the media. Our purpose is produced research and fact-based briefs that support our priorities. These priorities include:

  • Advancing policies and regulations that protect the environment, low-income individuals, people of color, working families, youth, women, immigrants, indigenous populations, and other frequently under-represented populations;
  • Advancing policies and regulations that address income and wealth inequality;
  • Advancing policies and regulations that broaden participation in elections and in decision-making by our representatives, reduce the influence of money and corporate lobbyists in the election, legislative, and regulatory processes;
  • Advancing policies and regulations to address the Climate Crisis by moving to a renewable energy-based economy as quickly as possible. Of necessity, this requires holding gas and oil industry accountable and more rigorously regulating, monitoring, and restricting their activities with the ultimate goal of eliminating gas and oil operations in NM as quickly as possible. To advance this goal, a high priority of our work is to advocate for the development of plan for an expeditious, just transition from our reliance on and production of gas and oil and the extraction of coal. This plan must address past injustices and ensure that the costs of transition are not borne by those already disadvantaged in society.
  • Advancing policies and regulations that reduce NM’s contribution to the nation’s war economy, its nuclear energy production and use, and its nuclear waste production and storage.
  • Always working in alignment with our advocacy allies like NM Voices for Children, Planned Parenthood, Common Cause, New Energy Economy, Wild Earth Guardians, Somos Un Pueblo Unido, New Mexicans for Gun Violence Prevention, and many others.

It is very important to keep these priorities in mind when working on Retake research. Researchers may not always agree with every aspect of Retake’s positions. But research needs to advance them, so researchers should work on issues where they can do so.

Standard Content & Product Development Process

This section will describe the audience or the end-users of our research work, the structure and content to our research briefs, and the process used to develop, review, edit and finalize each piece. Following this discussion is a set of current (Nov 2019) research priorities.

Approach to Audience.  This is tricky.  We start with appealing to our base, giving them tools to share with others and inform their communication with others who see the world somewhat or very differently than we do. It is essential to keep this in mind as we move forward. While we are not trying to be “objective” or give equal weight to disparate sets of facts, interpretations, or opinions, we need to be cognizant of opposing views because people using the research will encounter opposing views and need to have counter arguments. We are unapologetic and open about our point of view, rigorous about providing reliable supporting documentation, and as inclusive as possible in our language so as to be heard by as diverse an audience as possible.

Expected uses for these briefs include:

  • Handouts for discussion at house parties, book clubs, forums, or other settings where groups assemble, etc.;
  • Educational sources for interested people browsing through our website;
  • Handouts, PDFs, or links to share with friends; and
  • Bill Summaries for use by citizen lobbyists in advocating with legislators in person or by phone, for use by legislators who receive copies of our bill summaries before any hearing where one of our bills is being heard or for others as sources for letters to editors.

Structure-Contents. 500-1,500 word narrative, with links to sources used in the brief and to other sources for obtaining more information. When working on Bill Summaries for the legislative session, try to keep this under 1,000 words or two pages. Footnote your sources and include a list at the end. Don’t worry too much about the footnote style — an editor will take care of that later.

The narrative should include:

  • The problem being addressed or why this issue is important to New Mexico, presumably substantiated with recent data or references to credible reports;
  • A description of the policy or regulation we are advocating for, how it addresses the need or problem identified, and how the policy or regulation is good for New Mexico;
  • The potential impact on people and/or planet if this strategy were implemented. Examples could include budget savings, improved quality of life, reductions in methane, etc.
  • If available, a description of one or two examples of where this approach has been implemented elsewhere and its impact. This should be simple and easy to read, not high-toned or doctoral.
  • If available, give arguments from opposition and counter arguments responding to those concerns.

Legislative Bill Summaries

Bill summaries are a bit different in that they are used in a very specific manner and targeting a very specific audience. Bill summaries can be no more than 2 pages and most will be one page. A template for the bill summaries is provided below.

It is very important to identify sources for assertions made in research briefs. The easiest way to do this is to embed a web page link to each source used to make some assertion.

A ‘template’ outline for a research brief or bill summary is provided at the end of this document.

Research Coordination Process

Katie Bruell, our Research Team Leader, oversees the development of all briefs, maintaining a current list of research priorities and working with volunteers to match their interests with our priorities. Below is the process we use for producing research:

  • While most of the ‘coordination’ will occur directly with researchers via phone and/or email, there likely will be periodic meetings to assess overall progress and to clarify roles, priorities and to reflect on the process.
  • Katie will assign topics to individuals according to interest and expertise. She will clarify whether the research is focused on a policy or regulation, a specific bill being introduced in the legislature, or for another purpose. While we try to match volunteer interest with assignments, just before and during legislative sessions we may ask you to step outside your comfort zone.
  • When the research is for a specific bill, Katie will provide the bill number and the contact information for the “ally” with whom we are taking direction. We will usually want to incorporate material from the ally; they generally have been working in this area for a long time, have full time staff, have often already discussed the issues with bill sponsors and other legislators. The importance of starting with our ally can’t be overstated. Doing national research may lead you in directions that can in some cases directly undermine the policy or bill being advanced by our ally. Plus, very often they will be able to provide 70-80% of the information you need.
  • For Bill Summaries on bills that we have supported in the past, another excellent resource is our past Bill Summaries. They will include much of the information needed, at least as a starting point.
  • For Bill Summaries, another important resource is the bill itself. You can access the bill and often a Financial Impact Report (which is an excellent source that includes more than financial information.
    • When you click here you will go to the NMLEGIS bill finder. Katie will have given you the bill number, for Senate Bills the bill number will begin with SB and for House Bills the bill number will begin with HB. You use the bill finder to locate the bill. Simply select the current session e.g. 2020 regular, the chamber (House or Senate), the type of bill (most often just “bill”) and the number.
    • You will then come to a page that includes the bill number, title, sponsor(s) and the bill itself, something you will want to at least scan for information to include in your Bill Summary. Bills can range in length from 2-3 double-spaced pages to over 100 pages. But you will quickly figure out how to scan these bills for the info you need.
    • At the page with the bill, bill sponsors, etc. you will see on the left a tab for “Analysis.” If there is a number in the icon then there is a report there and this is most often the Financial Impact Report or FIR. This can be immensely helpful as it often has a reader-friendly summary and the goals and purpose of the bill right in the beginning.
  • Katie will negotiate a timeline for completion of your draft brief. In many instances this is flexible. In others, we have firm time constraints if there is a hearing or a legislative process upcoming. In these instances, please tell Katie if you can’t meet the time frame.
  • Once a topic is assigned, the research volunteer will begin by contacting the ally to see what information they have, to learn from them the best sources for additional information and/or areas where they feel additional research would be beneficial.
  • The volunteer will send the completed draft to Katie, who will review it and may suggest you explore an area you may have missed or adjust the format. She will forward the brief to Roxanne Barber, co-founder of Retake for the final edit. She has 20 years experience as a Communications Director for a national non-profit that lobbied in state legislatures and in Washington, D.C.
  • Once final revisions are made, the brief will be returned to you to ensure we haven’t misrepresented anything you’ve done. However, do know that changes to briefs are common and do not reflect dissatisfaction with your work as much as our desire to ensure that the piece fully supports our priorities and the priorities of our allies.

Highest Priority Research Topics

These are currently our highest priorities because they have associated bills that likely will be introduced in the 2020 Legislative Session.

  • Tax and Revenue—this is a high priority because major tax and revenue reform should have been the first thing out of the gate in the Roundhouse in 2019. While some improvements in our tax and revenue system were made, much was left on the table due to conservative Democratic Senators Clemente Sanchez and John Arthur Smith. NM has one of the most regressive tax systems in the nation and badly needs to increase taxes on upper income residents and corporations. So many tax giveaways were adopted during the Johnson, Richardson, and Martinez eras and a key part of diversifying our revenue base is to eliminate the vast majority of those giveaways. But with so much gas and oil revenue flowing in, legislators are wary of introducing tax increases. We need to provide solid evidence for how that revenue could be collected and used. Here we can work with NM Voices for Children who do extensive research in this area.
  • Energy policy. We are particularly interested in ways a state or community can disassociate itself from a public utility and chart its own energy future via cooperatives, Local Choice Energy, Community Solar, and other policies. Here we can work with New Energy Economy and Wild Earth Guardians for guidance. Over the past few years, a difference in priorities is emerging between these two groups and more mainstream environmental organizations (CVNM, Sierra Club, 350NM, etc.). While we still agree with those organizations on many, many issues, increasingly we find ourselves in opposition on how best to transition to renewable energy. If there are differences in approach among allies, they will need to be resolved at the Retake leadership level.
  • Fracking impact. Impact on climate change and local communities from the kind of intensive fracking conducted in the Four Corners and much more so now, in southeast New Mexico.
  • Benefits of Early Childhood Education and Wisdom of Increasing Draw on the Permanent Fund. This has been killed in Senate Finance every year for the past eight. It needs to pass, but to get it through will take sustained and focused effort. A well-done brief on the financial benefits of early childhood investments and the benefits to low-income working families would be a great start.
  • Produced water and the impacts of fracking more generally.  The produced water bill has opened the door to using produced water in agriculture. We need to research this industry, the technology involved in treating toxic water produced in fracking processes, and the limits to that technology.
  • Strategies for making a ‘just transition’ in NM.  This is a very broad area that spans economic transitions, green infrastructure investment options and potential, and restoration of the environment in Four Corners, southern NM and elsewhere where the extractive industry has operated.
  • Wealth building in communities through cooperatives, local purchasing agreements by key stakeholder businesses, and other strategies. We are particularly interested in these strategies in rural communities.

As noted above, new issues emerge all the time, so it is important to check with Katie periodically for new research opportunities.

Research Brief & Bill Summary Template Brief Outline

To ensure consistency in format, we ask that you try to conform with the following outline. If you find that you feel more information is needed that won’t fit this outline, do provide that information at the end of the brief.

  1. Title of Policy or Regulation OR, if a Bill for the Legislature, Bill Number, Title, and Sponsor (s).
  2. Brief Summary of the Purpose and Scope of the Policy, Regulation or Bill –When developing Bill Summaries, the best source for the summary, purpose and scope is the bill itself which can be located at under the Legislation menu, as described above.
  3. Problem or Need Addressed
  4. Why This Policy, Regulation or Bill Is Important to New Mexico
  5. Impact On the Environment, the Local/State Economy, and Under-Represented Populations
  6. Arguments Offered by Opposition and Counter Arguments for Each One
  7. Citations, Links and Other Resources
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