In 2007, the Board adopted a procedure for members to follow who want the Executive Board to consider issuing a position statement:
From time to time, members of the American Folklore Society individually or collectively want to ask the Executive Board that governs the Society to take a public position on an issue of policy.
AFS public statements on policy issues (which we call “policy statements” in this document) can be used to inform the policy debate in many ways. Folklore research yields important information and insights into contemporary social situations and processes. Folklorists’ points of view, and the understandings gained through folklore research, can and should inform the development of public policy.
Some people make a clear distinction between expertise and advocacy. However, participating in the formation of public policy is always, explicitly or implicitly, a political act. Endorsement of a policy statement demonstrates support for a particular point of view intended to inform a process in which many points of view and many interests will be voiced. The Society’s contribution to the policy process is not simply to declare what is right or wrong, but to provide a folkloristic point of view that can be used in the context of informed advocacy.
In order for the Society to take informed action on requests for policy statements, proponents should provide thorough and convincing arguments. These guidelines set forth the content and format for a well-argued proposal for the Society’s endorsement of a policy statement.
To make a decision about taking and communicating a position, the Executive Board of AFS will need two things: 1) a proposal for an AFS position on the policy matter and 2) a clear and succinct policy statement, suitable for public dissemination, that expresses that position. Proposals should include the following elements:
1. A succinct history of the issue, including a description of the context, the situation being addressed, and who is affected and how.
2. A description of the folkloristic dimensions of the issue. This section should include a discussion of how the proponents requesting the policy statement have come to be involved in the issue as folklorists, the nature of their involvement, and the ways in which the issue falls within the boundaries of the Society’s mission.
3. A description of the issue’s relationship to existing folklore research and understanding. Policy statements endorsed by AFS should reflect a distinctively folkloristic perspective. The request for a statement should include a well-argued brief on expert grounds for the position being sought. This section of the proposal must demonstrate the thorough weighing of the range of folklore evidence and must then demonstrate why the preponderance of folkloristic judgment favors the requested position. Please include a list of any references you cite.
4. Recommendations. Requests for policy endorsement must specify policy recommendations, not just conclusions, and indicate who is requested to act. The way in which the recommendations derive from the preponderance of folkloristic research and understanding should be clearly demonstrated.
5. Strategic Analysis. AFS is interested in issuing policy statements that contribute to public debate. To be effective, a policy statement cannot simply be “issued;” it must fit into a thoughtful strategy for timely communication to relevant audiences within the policy debate. Thus proponents need to provide a strategic description of the policy context in which an AFS statement will be used. Issues that should be addressed include:
- What is the process in which the policy statement will be used?
- Who makes the ultimate decision about the policy matter in question?
- Who are the players contributing to the debate and what are their viewpoints? How do they participate?
- What is the timeline for effective communication and action?
- What players are likely to support or oppose the AFS perspective?
- Specifically, how will the requested AFS policy statement be used?
- Discuss possible public products (e.g., op-eds, position papers, comments on regulations and official policies, etc.).
Finally, as mentioned above, the proposal must include at least one text of a specific public statement on the issue.
1. Any AFS committee, interest group section, or member may submit a proposal to the Society’s executive office for a policy statement, and the Executive Director will forward it to a policy committee of the Executive Board.
2. The policy committee is intended to act as a catalyst and resource on policy issues, not as a censor or arbiter of what positions AFS should or should not endorse. The policy committee will review the proposal for conformity with the above guidelines. The committee may request that the proponents revise the proposal and sample policy statement accordingly, may suggest coordination with various AFS sections or committees having similar concerns, and may also suggest additional means of communicating the proposed policy perspective.
The policy committee will make a recommendation to the full Executive Board regarding endorsement of the proposal, and the Executive Board will make a final decision regarding endorsement of the proposal. The Executive Board may endorse the proposal as presented, may request revisions to strengthen the form or substance of the proposal, or may decline endorsement. In endorsing a proposal, the Board may choose to retain responsibility for disseminating the policy statement, or may authorize the proponents to do so on behalf of the Society. Proponents who disagree with the recommendations of the policy committee or the Executive Board are free to communicate their concerns to the Executive Board through the Executive Director.
3. The Society’s Executive Director will work to ensure timely review by the policy committee and the Executive Board, given the deadlines relevant to the issue at hand. Where urgent deadlines exist, the Executive Director and Board may modify these review procedures.
4. Under these procedures, the Society’s Executive Board is asked to endorse a policy statement and a strategy for communicating it to relevant audiences, not to approve a particular “product” (letter, press release, committee testimony, etc.). When the Executive Board authorizes the proponents to publicize an endorsed policy statement, this implies approval of the statement in various forms without further review by the Executive Board or the policy committee, within the limits set forth in the endorsed proposal. The proponents will promptly submit two copies of any statements released under these procedures to the AFS Executive Director. The Executive Director will work in partnership with the proponents to disseminate the statement, to monitor the policy issue, and, if necessary, to create additional “products” containing the statement.
5. No section, committee, or individual advocating a policy position may use the Society’s name in such a way as to imply the Society’s endorsement of that position without specific approval by the Society’s Executive Board as set forth in these procedures.
III. Communication with Members
Beginning in 2011, the AFS office posted all Society policy positions and statements that the Executive Board approved to the AFS Review section of the AFS website, which is archived in Open Folklore. Since 2021, approved position statements are covered in AFS News.
The AFS Executive Director will e-mail the Society membership when a proposal for a policy position is posted, inviting responses and (since many positions need to be acted upon quickly) making clear the deadline for responses. All Society members in good standing will be able to access the published statement at any time between then and the deadline to make their own comments on that policy position, and to read and respond to the comments of others.
Once the Executive Board has reached a decision on a particular matter, the Executive Director will post that decision—along with the text of any new statement of position and a summary of the Board’s thinking that went into the decision—to AFS News and other communication channels.