Partners in Policymaking

Primary Practice

Advocacy and leadership training for family caregivers and individuals with disabilities. Available online and in person provided by peer family members


Partners in policy makers is a leadership training program that train participants on means to collaborate and establish positive relationships with policy makers. Partners work towards insuring that the rights of people with disabilities are maintained in future public policies.

The program’s curriculum includes 128 hours of instruction that are taught over 8 weekends. It is delivered by organizations or individual coordinators who are responsible for recruiting participants, class organization, communication with expert trainers, and organizing financial aspects.

The curriculum covers several topics that are related to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. These topics include the history of services, self-advocacy and independent living movements, critical skills that would help the participants draft a vision for the year 2020 and beyond for people with disabilities, skills that enhances leadership such as understanding how a bill become a law, identifying critical federal issues and the process by which participants can personally address their concerns, and learn how to meet a public official and discuss their needs.

An online program has been offered since 2003. The program offers five online courses that aim to  introduce the basic concepts of Partners in Policymaking. These courses are Partners In Living, Partners in Time; Partners in Education, Partners in Making your Case; and Partners in Employment. The program offers up to date knowledge that participants can access to increase their knowledge and understanding of best practices in the disability field and learn how to communicate effectively with their elected officials. The program also offers participants the opportunity to supplement their learning.

Target Population(s)

Families and caregivers of individuals with developmental disabilities


The program was developed by the Minnesota Governors Council on Developmental Disabilities in 1987. It has been widely implemented across the country and internationally. By 2015, there were more than 27,000 Partners graduates, including nearly 3,000 internationally. While Partners in Policymaking programs have been initiated in several countries outside of the United States, funding sources have varied and efforts to secure funding on an ongoing basis have been met with mixed results. State DD Councils have often provided funding to implement the program within their states. Over time, programs have been offered in the following countries or regions: Australia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, and United Kingdom.


The goal of this program is to empower individuals with developmental disabilities and families to become leaders and influence policy.

Evidence of Outcomes

Emerging Practice/Model
Several small-scale quantitative and qualitative evaluations have been conducted on the Partners in Policymaking program. While none have used an experimental design with a control group, there is support for outcomes in empowerment and policymaking. The program is widely implemented with a high level of fidelity.

Zirpoli, Wieck, Hancox, & Skarnulis (1994) conducted quantitative and qualitative follow-up surveys and interviews with program graduates. Results indicated both satisfaction with the program and the advocacy actions and leadership taken by graduates.

Balcazar, Keys, Bertram, & Rizzo (1996) and Reynolds (2011) conducted quantitative and qualitative studies on the impact of the program on empowerment and advocacy development of participants.

Johnson, J.R. & Bethke (unpublished) are conducting research on the long-term outcomes of the program using pre-test, 6-month, and 5-year follow-up surveys. Preliminary findings indicate increases in self-rated advocacy and leadership, ability to secure services, and advocacy outcomes associated with graduates. Qualitative findings also support impact of the program on advocacy and leadership.

In 2014, the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities contracted with MarketResponse International to conduct a survey of Minnesota Partners in Policymaking graduates. The report contains rich quotes and descriptions from people with disabilities and family members about how the program impacted their lives.

Additional Information

Partners in Policymaking website:


Balcazar, F., Keys, C., Bertram, J., & Rizzo, T. (1996). Advocate development in the field of developmental disabilities: A data-based conceptual model. Mental Retardation, 34(6), 341-351.

Johnson, J.R. & Bethke, H. (unpublished) Partners in Policymaking: Long term outcomes. Unpublished presentation of preliminary findings of long-term evaluation. Available at:

Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities (July, 2015). Partners in Policymaking: Changing Lives. Changing policies. Available at:

Reynolds, M.C., (2011). Understanding the Partners in Policymaking Program and the Impact of Participation on Parents of Children with Developmental Disabilities in Missouri. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Zirpoli, T. J., Hancox, D., Wieck, C., & Skarnulis, E. R. (1989). Partners in policymaking: Empowering people. Journal of the Association for persons with Severe Handicaps, 14(2), 163-167.

Zirpoli, T., Wieck, C., Hancox, D., & Skarnulis, E.R. (1994). Partners in policymaking: The first five years. Mental Retardation 32(6), 422-42.