The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Katherine Hamilton of 38 North Solutions
We’re fortunate to call Katherine Hamilton both friend and colleague. In fact, Katherine and her firm are part of our Collaborations team and we’ve worked together on multiple client projects. Katherine works with noted cleantech and other firms and organizations providing business development and public policy consulting. She has been listed on the #Solar100 board by KWh Analytics and received the inaugural Cleanie Award as Entrepreneur of the Year. Katherine serves on the Board of GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic and is Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Future of Advanced Energy Technology Global Future Council. She’s also one of three members of Greentech Media’s The Energy Gang podcast.
Katherine has been a utility engineer, trade association director, investment advisor, government research manager and industry alliance president. She truly has done it all. The fact that she’s also a trusted colleague, respected ally and influential advisor means that she’s someone anyone would be fortunate to work with. We’re thrilled she took the time to help us end the calendar year on a high note with her usual smart, insightful, succinct perspective.
Our thanks to Katherine for sharing her time and insight with us – and you.
Q: Policy is so often driven by communications. How do you work with clients to coordinate the two?
A: Strong communications—creating a narrative—is crucial to policy advocacy. You must be able to put your policy into understandable and compelling language, and then pitch that policy in a way that speaks to the policymaker in his or her own terms. My colleagues and I spend a lot of time translating the business or mission for which we are advocating into the appropriate story that will appeal to policymakers.
Q: How has the policy landscape shifted in the past few decades in terms of the communications levers used to influence policy, legislation and regulation?
A: So much of policy has devolved into tribal politics. I find that I use completely different terminology depending on who I am speaking with about public policy. Knowing what makes a policymaker tick, then having the right story to tell that grabs the policymaker from an intellectual, or visceral, or constituent basis, is critical to having that policy enacted. You must also be able to back up that story with facts, whether that means numbers of jobs, or economic development, or carbon reductions, or consumer savings.
Q: You've built a very successful career in energy and are widely respected for your acumen and experience. I'm betting it wasn't always that way, however. Was it challenging being a woman in energy policy at the start of your career when the environment was different? How did you thrive in spite of those challenges?
A: I actually spent the first half of my career doing engineering, not policy. As a woman at a utility in the ’80’s, I faced daily discrimination based on gender, although it took me a while to recognize it as such. I was denied promotions routinely and at one point was even told to stay home and raise my kids (by the head of H.R., no less). I have since been in jobs where gender was not an issue at all, as well as in positions where I was actually fired for being a strong woman. I advise women to not be fearful of negotiating for themselves and to seek out organizations that are intentionally inclusive. I remain a hopeless optimist and try not to blame myself for someone else’s prejudice!
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?
A: The best advice I have been given is to speak in a way that your mother would understand—no acronyms!
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?
A: I tell young people that the most important skill they can have is to be able to write well. I spent a lot of time doing engineering and technical work and, yet, writing always trumped math. Read good writing and practice writing—and you will in time become a good writer.