In late August 2023, more than 1,500 leaders descended on downtown Chicago for State Policy Network’s 31st Annual Meeting. Annual Meeting is the premier gathering of organizations and people dedicated to promoting statepolicy solutions that strengthen communities and improve the lives of Americans.
At the crux of State Policy Network and Annual Meeting is the belief that the states, not Washington DC, can more effectively advance policies that help Americans thrive.
Each year at Annual Meeting, SPN convenes independent state think tank leaders, policy experts, community members, and supporters to develop innovative policy solutions to the problems that matter most to American families. Participants from more than 500 organizations from all 50 states gathered in the Windy City to be inspired, develop new policy strategies, and connect with peers, mentors, philanthropic partners, and experts who can help them grow personally and professionally.
In addition to the many panels and sessions that covered issues such as K-12 education, poverty, homelessness, affordable housing, taxes, jobs, energy, workplace freedom, and healthcare, Annual Meeting also included a keynote presentation from Governor Mitch Daniels. Daniels, the former governor of Indiana and president of Purdue University, highlighted the power of federalism—or the system of government where power is shared between the state and national governments. Daniels highlighted the gridlock, partisanship, and one-size-fits-all mandates that emanate from the federal government and how, and as a result, the American people have lost faith in Washington to solve the challenges they’re facing every day.
Daniels reiterated the importance states have in making life better for American families—and the potential they have to reduce the political polarization that plagues much of our country today. Daniels added: “When America regains its footing—it will be state leadership and state examples that bring us back.”
Bestselling author Liz Bohannon was another keynote speaker at Annual Meeting. According to Bohannon, there are things that we will do as beginners more naturally that will help us become more creative, innovative, and ultimately, more successful—a key theme of her book, Beginner’s Pluck: Build Your Life of Purpose & Impact Now. Bohannon encouraged the audience to embrace their status as a beginner so they can start doing instead of dreaming. Bohannon demonstrated how curiosity over criticism fuels innovation and sets you on the ultimate path of success by weaving passion and purpose into every goal. Attendees of her keynote walked away with actionable ways to start building a life of purpose, passion, and lasting impact.
Participants of SPN’s Annual Meeting come from several disciplines—whether that’s a senior leadership, communications, development, outreach, policy, or operations role. Annual Meeting’s sessions, panels, and programming help participants grow their skills and develop professionally in these areas and more. This year’s opportunities included sessions on how to attract and cultivate top talent, prepare for media interviews, produce videos, build a comprehensive think tank strategy, leverage AI for marketing, build audiences, and more.
In addition to professional development, participants of Annual Meeting often note one of the most valuable things they take away from the conference is the opportunity to network and connect with other attendees. Annual Meeting is the premiere Network event for participants to connect with other professionals who are working to improve lives through policy.
These relationships help participants reach their personal and professional goals faster than if they acted alone. Whether it’s through one-on-one meetings, receptions, breakout sessions, or even speed networking panels, Annual Meeting provides ample opportunities for attendees to meet and build relationships. This year’s conference also included opportunities for attendees to connect in a more informal way, including a 5K race, chess tournament, and a night out at Chicago’s House of Blues.
A big part of Annual Meeting is celebrating the progress state and local organizations have made to help American families—especially those from poorer and less advantaged backgrounds. Presented at the Annual Awards Dinner on Wednesday night, Annual Meeting recognized the profound impact this Network’s organizations and state leaders are having on Americans.
The Bob Williams Awards celebrate state think tanks doing exceptional work to develop and disseminate credible policy research and ideas that can help states implement free-market solutions that will have national impact. At the Awards Dinner on Wednesday night, State Policy Network presented the 2023 Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Public Policy Achievement to the Beacon Center, Cardinal Institute, Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Mackinac Center, and Texas Public Policy Foundation. These five organizations were recognized for their work to improve K-12 education, reduce taxes for hardworking families, lower housing costs, protect worker rights, and hold government unions accountable.
State Policy Network also recognized the Commonwealth Foundation’s Charles Mitchell and Commonwealth Partners’ Matthew Brouillette with the 2023 Thomas A. Roe Award. The Roe Award pays tribute to those in the state public policy movement whose achievements have greatly advanced free-market philosophy and policy solutions. It recognizes leadership, innovation, and accomplishment in public policy. Mitchell and Brouillette certainly fit that description—each making a profound impact on Pennsylvanians through their leadership in public policy. Through their tremendous leadership and strategic thinking, Mitchell and Brouillette were able to advance policies that help Pennsylvanians live a better life.
State Policy Network’s 2023 Network Award recognized the tremendous wave of school choice policies that advanced across the country—and the 14 groups that made it possible. In January, just two states had “universal” school choice laws—Arizona and West Virginia. Today, thanks to the tireless efforts of this Network, eight states now have universal school choice: Arizona, West Virginia, Utah, Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, and Ohio. Thanks to these Network groups, millions of children now have the opportunity to access a quality education they need and deserve.
SPN also presented the 2023 Communications Excellence Awards to the Institute for Reforming Government, Opportunity Arkansas, and Yankee Institute. The SPN Communications Excellence Awards recognize and encourage outstanding achievements in marketing, communications, and media across the state think tank Network. The three winners were highlighted for their innovative communications efforts that boosted their brand and expanded their audiences.
Winners of SPN’s 2023 Ed-Prize were also recognized at Annual Meeting. Ed-Prize inspires and accelerates new solutions through grant-making so that education outcomes are improved across the country. This year’s winners—Canary Academy, Let Grow, and Red Bridge Education—are education nonprofits that are improving homeschooling options, increasing childhood independence, and supporting student agency across the country.
It’s important to bring young leaders into the movement to advance positive policy change at the state and local level. That’s why State Policy Network launched the Generation Liberty Fellowship program in 2009.
Each year, SPN welcomes a new class of Generation Liberty Fellows to Annual Meeting. In Chicago, 38 fellows from across the country had access to exclusive sessions tailored for rising leaders, including leadership and professional development training designed to sharpen their skills and specific sessions on how to better communicate policy solutions.
This year’s Generation Liberty Fellows class now joins an alumni network of more than 600 leaders across the country who have gone on to start nonprofits, work in Network roles at state and national organizations, work in government, or build careers in the private sector.
Too many American families are plagued with a subpar education, unaffordable housing, a lack of meaningful work, expensive everyday items including groceries, gas, and electricity, and unaffordable healthcare. What’s more, the American public has lost faith in the federal government—the very institution Americans often turn to for solutions to these problems. State solutions are needed more than ever—and this Network of more than 500 policy organizations is finding answers to the challenges facing many Americans. SPN and Annual Meeting highlight these policy solutions and help this Network work together to advance them across the states—so even more Americans can thrive.
State Policy Network’s 32nd Annual Meeting will take place in Phoenix, Arizona. Sign up here for Annual Meeting updates and early registration access.