The EFNA Network: Telling the Story

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Appeared in the Fraser Insight, July 8, 2019

The Fraser Institute convened its fifth annual EFNA Network conference June 3 and 4 in Dallas. The theme of this year’s conference was “Communicating Economic Freedom to the Public, Press and Policymakers.” Dozens of scholars and execs from 17 partner organizations representing 15 states heard and contributed insights on how to spread the economic freedom message to the media and state lawmakers.

Given the focus of this year’s conference, the event led off with a recap of U.S. media mentions of the EFNA report in the past year. The final tally for the 2017-18 cycle (following publication of EFNA 17 in December 2017) was 519 U.S. media mentions in traditional media outlets such as newspapers, radio and TV. That set a record for the most-ever U.S. media mentions for EFNA, and it marked a 489-percent increase over 2013 (the year before we launched the EFNA Network).

In addition, we track U.S. digital media placements—outputs such as blogs, press releases, social media posts, digital reports, e-newsletters, etc. The reason: These are often the sorts of outputs our partners are delivering directly to civic leaders, policymakers and informed citizens in their states via their own media strategies. The final tally of digital media placements for the 2017-18 cycle was 106 articles, blogs, social-media hits and other digital outputs emanating from 23 states, along with mentions in 29 national outlets—a 194.4-percent increase in digital media placements in four years.

In the seven months between publication of EFNA 18 and the conference, the EFNA Network generated 84 digital media placements (emanating from 25 states and dozens of national outlets) related to EFNA 18. In other words, the EFNA Network is on pace to set yet another record.

All told, since launching the EFNA Network in 2014, the report has been featured in media outlets and by policy organizations in 38 states, and our Network has grown to 52 members in 41 states, Canada and Mexico.

Creative Partners

Our EFNA Network partners are employing the report in countless creative ways.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) is using the EFNA index in reports, op-eds, newsletters and blogs. TPPF’s effectiveness in getting the EFNA message out is evident in tweets from Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Comptroller’s Office; both are regularly citing TPPF’s EFNA-related work. In addition, TPPF’s testimony at the state house often cites the EFNA index.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Buckeye Institute of Ohio and Rio Grande Foundation of New Mexico publish state-specific versions of the EFNA report and deliver them to state lawmakers.

The Mackinac Center (Michigan), Arkansas Center for Research in Economics, Mississippi Center for Public Policy, Illinois Policy Institute, Johnson Center for Political Economy (Alabama), Beacon Center (Tennessee), Center for the Study of Free Enterprise (North Carolina), and Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise (North Dakota) produce scholarly articles, blogs and op-eds featuring EFNA findings.

The Kansas Policy Institute, Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Tax Education Foundation of Iowa, Nevada Policy Research Institute, Center of the American Experiment (Minnesota), Libertas Institute (Utah), Pioneer Institute (Massachusetts), and Independent Institute (California) pump out e-newsletters and news releases to their circles of influence.

The Lone Star Institute (Texas) has hosted EFNA authors for radio interviews. Partners such as the John Locke Foundation (North Carolina), Center for the Study of Economic Liberty (Arizona) and Institute for Market Studies (Mississippi) are publishing lengthy studies that feature EFNA data and findings.

Finally, Mackinac, TPPF and Grassroot have invited EFNA authors to speak at large-scale conferences geared toward civic leaders and state lawmakers.

From Data to Stories

EFNA Network members from Ohio, Michigan and Arizona led the keynote session of the conference, which focused on best practices in promoting economic freedom in the policymaking sphere.

Andrew Kidd shared the Buckeye Institute’s strategy, which includes the use of blogs, an Ohio-specific version of the report, and an “Ohio Economic Freedom Fact Sheet” that provides policymakers with comparisons to neighboring states and analysis of Ohio’s progress on the index. These outputs “tell in words what the index tells in numbers, highlight the good, comment on the bad and focus on what policymakers can do in the year ahead to make Ohio better.”

Stephen Slivinski of the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty described how he and his center are using EFNA to develop the Doing Business North America project—a new annual report that provides objective measures of business regulations in more than 100 cities across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The DBNA project “intends to provide more granular content to the analysis of a state or regional business climate and better explain the local regulatory barriers that exist for employers and workers.”

Mike LaFaive detailed how Mackinac uses the EFNA report to show lawmakers Michigan’s position relative to neighboring states and the rest of the country. Mackinac distributes blog posts, essays and presentations about the EFNA report through multiple channels. These include Mackinac’s own news arm, Michigan Capitol Confidential; Viewpoint, which is a collection of commentaries distributed to traditional media outlets as free content to be reprinted; and Issues and Ideas luncheons, which are designed to inform lawmakers and their staffs on public policy topics. The 2019 Issues and Ideas luncheon, which featured EFNA author Dean Stansel, was the largest Issues and Ideas event in the 25-year history of the program. The event was broadcast live.

Mackinac also uses its proprietary VoteSpotter online app to “facilitate engagement by voters and others with public officeholders,” as LaFaive explained. “It is today one of the largest civic engagement platforms in the U.S.” Some 5 million people have used the VoteSpotter app to engage lawmakers on a range of issues since 2014—including, for the first time in 2019, EFNA-related topics.

Perth Tolle, founder of the Life+Liberty Indexes, delivered remarks on the topic “Marketing Freedom.” Tolle’s Freedom 100 Emerging Markets Index “empowers investors who believe in freedom to invest in alignment with their values.” The index uses international freedom indexes, published by the Fraser Institute and similar to EFNA, to build a portfolio of markets that “protect and promote human and economic freedoms.” Tolle urged attendees at the conference to lead with stories over data when talking about economic freedom with the public. “When we talk about freedom and economic freedom,” she explained, “we need to use data to support the story—but lead with the story.”

Each of our partners has a unique way to tell the story of economic freedom, as they prove each and every time we gather in Dallas for another EFNA Network conference.

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