Figure 1 - Agricultural use of land in Weld County, Colo. QuickBird satellite image courtesy of DigitalGlobe.

How to Understand and Influence Public Opinion

Advocating for Satellite Imagery in the Big City

David Logsdon
Executive Director
Space Enterprise Council
Washington, D.C.

It seems so simple, really — promoting a product that is considered a media darling. One can tune in to the nightly news and come across a major news story for which commercial satellite imagery is utilized during the coverage. Generals rely on commercial satellite imagery in their daily planning, the nation’s farmers use the imagery for precision agriculture, and thousands of disaster management planners have incorporated the imagery into both their pre- and post-disaster assessments. One would think that advocating for such a product would be a cinch, but that is not necessarily the case. A lot of different actions need to be taken before true progress can be made. Here’s a bird’s-eye view into the advocacy process from the standpoint of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Space Enterprise Council (SEC), describing how the SEC influences policy.

The two driving forces of issues management two driving forces of issues management

For as long as I can remember, the key to advocating for an issue either within the Federal Government or on a local level is the ability to tie the issue to two distinct concerns: national and economic security. To put it bluntly, ‘fear’ and ‘greed’ sell on Capitol Hill and on Main Street. Frame your issue within this context, and more often than not, you will win the debate.

How to reach out the state, regional, and local business communities: grass-tops lobbying

Because the SEC is affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we have the unique ability to reach out to the entire American business community to articulate the relevancy of an issue. This can be accomplished in many formats. For example, if we were hosting a forum at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the benefits of commercial satellite imagery for national security, that forum could be Web-cast live to over 1,300 chambers, and could be promoted through the chamber’s monthly newsletter. Yet another way to reach a local audience is through Letters to the Editor and Opinion Editorials placed in regional and local papers. When these local business leaders respond back to Congress on an issue, it is considered grass-tops lobbying. Infusing the grass-tops into action is a major goal for the SEC.

Building business coalitions

A coalition is the lifeblood of issue advocacy. Issue coalitions enable minority interests to build majority support. Coalitions allow different interests to band together and at the same time to maintain their separate policy agendas. While it is necessary to identify and recruit ‘natural allies,’ doing so is only a first step. The more coalition members reflect the same or very similar interests, the less effective the coalition will be. The most powerful coalitions represent a broad range of interests that the public and decision makers cannot ignore.

Moving towards the building of coalitions, the SEC hosted two cabinet-secretary-level events in 2005 focusing on the synergies between commercial satellite imagery and different sectors of American business. Our April program focused on the agribusiness industry (see Figure 1) and our July program focused on the energy industry. The council is aiming to create a sustainable coalition with these and other business interests in order to convince the public and decision makers of the importance of commercial satellite imagery to our national and economic security.

Influencing events: use of the media

The public gets its information from the media, but so do decision makers. The media has the ability to make news as well as to report it, and issue advocates can use the media to influence policymakers. There’s a surefire way to make an agency respond, and that is to get them on the news. Our April 2005 agribusiness and satellite imagery forum showcased keynote addresses from both Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Senator Pat Roberts (a key member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee) and was covered live by CSPAN. Shortly thereafter, we were successful in having language added to the agriculture appropriations bill in support of commercial satellite imagery.

Persuading decision makers: working with the Executive Branch

The lynchpin that has driven SEC activity over the course of the last three years has been the national commercial satellite remote sensing policy. The SEC was an instrumental player in the drafting of the policy, working closely with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Security Council (NSC). The SEC had worked for many years cultivating relationships in both offices and the end result was a significant amount of SEC input that was incorporated into the national policy. Washington is all about relationship building and establishing trust.

The road ahead for commercial satellite imagery

For the commercial satellite imagery industry to move ahead, advances will have to be made in the utilization of the imagery by the United States government civilian agencies. Use of commercial satellite imagery by the national security sector will continue to grow with the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) program, though it is years behind schedule. The industry clearly needs to make inroads both inside and outside the beltway in order to create an impact with the civilian agencies. The SEC stands ready to assist with this critical mission.

The SEC was founded in 2000 to represent businesses with a commercial interest in space. Over the past five years, the Council has grown to represent all sectors of the industry, including commercial, civil, and military space. As a forum for space-related companies, the council brings the collective power of its affiliation with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its diverse members into a single, unified voice that is used in advocating member interests to policymakers. The Council’s primary focus is the unique connection between space-based applications and our economy. The Council’s Executive Director is David Logsdon and he can be reached at

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