Section 01 Introducing advocacy

1.1: What is advocacy?

Advocacy means actions intended to influence selected people, governments, private companies or other institutions in order to achieve a desired policy, practice, social, or political change that will benefit particular groups.
Advocacy can seek to:
  • Reform policies and institutions or
  • Alter power relations and bring about fundamental changes or
  • Protect or defend particular groups from adverse changes
We're all advocates! You don’t need to have had 'advocacy' in your job title to have had experience of advocacy. In our daily lives, most of us are constantly trying to influence others to take a certain course of action. Remember to draw on these experiences when advocating for the changes you seek.

1.2: Why do advocacy?

  • To defend communities and programmes from adverse policy changes
  • To achieve more widespread, longer term and sustainable changes than is usually possible through community-based programmes alone
  • To address the causes of poverty and not just the symptoms
  • To ensure the responsibilities of governments to citizens are met and rights are respected
  • To strengthen democracy by encouraging the engagement of citizens and civil society organisations in the policy-making process
  • To increase the profile of your organization among policymakers

1.3: Challenges of doing advocacy

  • Advocacy is about influence rather than control. You may succeed in influencing and persuading powerful actors to take action and make change happen – or you may not. You cannot totally control what they do.
  • Changing policies or laws can take a long time and the process may be very unpredictable (though not all advocacy initiatives seek policy or legal changes).
  • Advocacy strategies are very context-specific and time-specific: what worked in one particular time or place may not work in any other time or place.
  • Advocacy will require you and your organisation to engage with politicians and political processes. Some of your supporters and those you seek to influence may regard your organisation as too `political’. This may affect your reputation and your funding.
  • In some contexts, engaging in advocacy may expose your organisation and staff to harassment because those you seek to influence regard you as a threat to their power and their interests.
  • Multiple actors and factors may have been involved in securing the change you seek. This makes it hard to attribute change to your advocacy.
You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results. - Mahatma Gandhi

1.4: What's in the advocacy toolbox?

Advocacy is an umbrella term covering a wide range of activities., such as:
  • Direct engagement with powerful actors whom you are seeking to influence. Includes face-to-face or zoom/online meetings. The direct engagement is often with policymakers (ie politicians or civil servants in local or national government or in parliament), but the engagement could also be with community or religious leaders. Short briefings or policy reports aimed at these powerful actors may enhance this direct engagement.
  • Public campaigning. Includes mobilising citizens to put pressure on powerful actors through, for example, signing petitions or participating in marches or vigils
  • Using the media and social media to influence powerful actors – eg by persuading journalists to report on the issue or writing letters to a newspaper, or posting messages and content about the issue on social media
  • Litigation. When policymakers are not complying with their own laws, one option is take them to court and require them to comply through legal action
Core activities recommended for effective advocacy
  • Working in coalitions and alliances with others to achieve greater impact
  • Research and analysis of the problem you are addressing and the solutions – to support your case for change
  • Constant monitoring of your issue to understand how it is being addressed in political fora such as parliaments and by governments and in the media
There is no blueprint for how you do advocacy!
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Your advocacy activities will depend on your analysis of:
  • Who is involved in the advocacy – eg. your organisation, coalition, communities
  • The context in which you will advocate and who you are seeking to influence
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