How to Testify

Want to make your voice heard on important issues affecting children, youth, and families in the DC area? Read the following guidelines to learn how to testify at a DC Council hearing.
How to Testify at the DC Council Hearing

What Are the Steps Involved in Testifying at a DC Council Hearing?

This guide includes general instructions for testifying at DC Council hearings. The following guidelines may be used by members of the public, including advocates, families, young people, staff, and volunteers from community-based organizations, and anyone else interested in participating in the democratic process in the District of Columbia.

Typically, DC Action and our coalitions provide detailed information and specific talking points for hearings about the issues that affect children, youth, and families. Individuals who wish to testify are encouraged to incorporate and personalize these talking points in their own testimonies.

Decide Who Will Testify

Anyone who lives or works in the District of Columbia is welcome to testify at DC Council hearings. If you are testifying as an individual, tell your own story! If you’re representing an organization, deciding who from your organization should testify about what depends on the story you want to tell. If you have detailed and specific feedback or policy recommendations, your executive director or program director equivalent may be the best person to testify. You may also want to have someone directly impacted speak to highlight their experience and what they want to see moving forward. Youth participants and families are strongly encouraged to testify and share their personal experiences and stories of what a program means to them and why they think the District should prioritize their needs. 

If you’ve never testified before, now is your chance! We want the council to hear directly from you. DC Action is available to help support and prepare you for the hearing.

Sign Up to Testify

Each committee has a unique process for signing up to testify. Click here to learn more about the signup process. Read the section called How do I sign up to testify at a hearing? and follow the instructions.

If you sign up to testify in person, the DC Council will email you a day or two before the hearing with the witness list and instructions about when and where to participate in the hearing.

If you sign up for virtual testimony, you will receive an email from the relevant committee (no-reply@zoom.us) within 48 hours before the hearing with further instructions about how to participate via Zoom. Typically, they send a second email that requires witnesses to reconfirm their participation, and if you do not respond, you will not be able to testify. This is a critical step! We will reach out to witnesses who signed up with us or notified us that they signed themselves up to remind you to look for this email and submit the confirmation form. When you receive your Zoom link, please do not share your link with others, because the committee will use your link to identify you and add you as a panelist when your panel is called to testify. 

The committee typically publishes a witness list the night before or day of the hearing. Committee staff will email it to everyone who has signed up to testify and we will also share it with the coalition. That said, the council does not keep to a strict schedule, so we will do our best to keep everyone updated on the hearing’s progress and when we expect our witnesses to testify.

Prepare Your Testimony

You can provide testimony in person, via Zoom, or by submitting written testimony.

  • Live Testimony (in-person OR virtual): As of January 2024, witnesses may testify in person at the Wilson Building, or online via Zoom. Witnesses usually have three minutes to testify (or five minutes, if they are testifying as the official representative of an organization). The chairman is a strict timekeeper so make sure to stick to time. A three-minute testimony is between 450 and 600 words, or roughly one page single-spaced.

    We strongly encourage everyone who testifies live to also submit written testimony. While it is not technically required, the DC Council asks for written testimony from everyone who testifies. Any written testimony submitted will be made part of the hearing record. You have up to two weeks after the hearing to submit your written testimony, but if you would like to share your written testimony with councilmembers before the hearing, you will need to submit it at least 24 hours ahead of time. Written testimony will be posted on the Council website on the page about the hearing.

    You can submit your testimony by clicking on the Submit Testimony button on the hearing page. For more information, visit this page and click on How do I submit testimony for a hearing? 

  • Written Testimony Only: Written testimony has no length requirement — it can be any length. You have up to two weeks after the hearing to submit your written testimony, but if you would like to share your written testimony with councilmembers before the hearing, you will need to submit it at least 24 hours beforehand. Any written testimony submitted will be made part of the hearing record.

Testimony Template

Each public witness who testifies live is also asked to submit a written version of their testimony. This can be a word-for-word script of what you read live, or it can be a longer and more detailed testimony. Below is a template you can use as a guide when you draft your written testimony.

If you would like help preparing your testimony, or if you would like us to review it for you and provide feedback or suggestions, please email Betsy Rosso at brosso@dckids.org.

Testimony of YOUR NAME
TITLE, ORGANIZATION [OR WARD, IF NOT PART OF AN ORGANIZATION]
COMMITTEE NAME
HEARING TITLE
Council of the District of Columbia

DATE

Good morning, CHAIR OF COMMITTEE and members OF COMMITTEE NAME. Thank you
for the opportunity to address the Council today. My name is NAME, I am the TITLE of ORGANIZATION
[OR A RESIDENT OF WARD #] and a member of the COALITION NAME and I am testifying about TOPIC.

Introduce your organization (1 paragraph)

  • Provide a brief summary of your organization and mission [OR any important personal background information you want to share, e.g. I am a parent that lives in X ward, and have Y children in DC schools] What type of programming do you offer? Who do you serve? What wards do you operate in?

Tell your story (2-3 paragraphs)

  • We want to lead from a strengths-based perspective. Share with the council how your program has supported children, youth, and families in the District. Offer a quote from a program participant or a story about how and why your program matters to them. Or if you’re testifying as an individual, why does the program you or your family participate in matter to you?

Offer your insights and suggestions about the hearing topic,
using the talking points provided.
(3-5 paragraphs)

  • This is where you can adapt the suggested talking points, including wherever possible real-life impacts of the agency’s, Council’s, or Committee’s actions on your organization’s ability to serve children, youth, and families.

Thank you for your time and consideration. If you have any questions or matters you like to discuss I can be reached at the contact information below. 

YOUR NAME
TITLE
ORGANIZATION OR WARD
EMAIL
PHONE NUMBER

Follow the Hearing

Hearings will be broadcast live on the DC Council website, on YouTube, and on DC’s Channel 13. We will tweet about the hearing from @WeAreDCAction@DCOSTCoalition, or @Under3DC, depending on the focus of the hearing. We will lift up key issues on social media throughout the hearing. We encourage you or your organization to share highlights from your testimony on social media as well.

Testify!

The chair of the committee will call up witnesses one panel at a time. After each panel, committee members have the opportunity to ask questions of the witnesses who testified in that panel. It is important that you stay on the Zoom call until everyone in your panel has testified, in case a councilmember has a question for you.

What if I’m having technical difficulties and miss my name being called? If this happens, please email your coalition lead or the committee staff. We will reach out to council staff who are running the hearing and let them know that you were experiencing a technical difficulty and ask them to call on you in a later panel to testify. 

What if I’m asked a question I don’t know the answer to? The council is genuinely interested in your story and your experience. Often they do not ask many, if any, questions of public witnesses, but if they do and you do not feel comfortable answering or do not know the answer, you can tell them you’d be happy to follow up with them after the hearing. DC Action will support you with any follow up needed.

To learn more about DC Action’s initiatives, visit:

DC KIDS COUNT | Contact Rachel Metz with questions.

DC Out-of-School Time Coalition | Contact Ryllie Danylko with questions.

DC Home Visiting Council | Contact Mary Katherine West with questions.

Under 3 DC Coalition | Contact Vanessa Lopez with questions.

Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition | Contact Rachel White with questions.