How To Run A Good Advocacy

NOTE: This is based on practice and experience from my work and not theory/academic hence I may not have used some terms or definitions correctly.

What is advocacy? In straightforward terms, it is CHANGING a policy, law, perspective, perception, behaviour, harmful belief, cultural practices, opinion or thoughts etc using evidence– research and targeted messaging.

Advocacy also includes raising awareness, running campaigns and providing policy options or recommendations. It MAY include lobbying (if local laws permit).

Usually, advocacy is issue-based. For example Feminism and the ongoing message from the pulpit by the Oyedepo’s.

To run an effective advocacy a stakeholder analysis is important to understand who are the people that are for or against the issue. What are they saying? What influence do they have? What do they already know? Who are the experts and gatekeepers of the issue in focus? What are the current happenings and trends on the issue? What needs to change? What do we need to tell them (those for and against) to either change their position on the issue or reinforce it? Who has more influence or are the influencers? Many questions can be asked to be able to develop a robust advocacy strategy.

To answer these questions a research plan (desk/rapid research) is developed. The plan will look at providing answers to the questions above and more. Part of the research is to also do a desk review of what some of the stakeholders have said in the past and now through news articles, publications etc that shows their thinking on the issue. Note that you are looking for hard facts and examples that can be referenced.

Once the research is concluded and you have answers to all your advocacy research questions, you move to develop and implement an advocacy plan. The advocacy plan will naturally include how (strategies) to address findings from each of the research questions, a list of champions (those already working on or sympathetic to the issue and those against. Advocacy targets– individuals and institutions you want to see making the needed changes. It will also include what messages need to be passed to them and how (tools– radio/tv interviews or programmes, social media campaigns, policy briefs, roadshows, walks, in-person meetings, high-level advocacy visits, information, education and communication materials– IEC, letter writing, petitions, concerts, novelty matches, conferences, protests — this is the last resort when all other steps have failed–etc) or who (champions that can reach out and also speak publicly on the issue). Resources (financial, human, partnerships/collaborations, risk assessment and mitigation strategies) needed will also be included and a monitoring and evaluation plan too. Your advocacy plan must be culturally sensitive too.

Note that advocacy messaging is key and it is informed by your ability to listen to understand your stakeholders to develop your message in ways that help to change their position on the issue or reinforce it. Sentiments, bias, emotions and stereotypes must also be factored BUT properly teased out (contextualised) to be addressed and turned into messaging.

A good advocate must be proactive, critical thinker, resilient, strategist, good at communicating (writing and speaking), comfortable with being misunderstood, able to rise above pettiness, and aim to focus on the technicalities of the issues while finely balancing and understanding the politics. Must understand not everyone would like him or her and be ready to work with his or her enemies to get or achieve results. She/he must avoid sentiments and must stay objective at all times. Gatekeepers and donors in your field may sometimes be the enemy within— learn to factor that and gauge the environment. They may also be your advocacy targets.

Issues based advocacy is not a straight line. You must be agile on your plans and be ready to change course based on new information, realities and learnings. Hence your plan should be fluid. Advocacy has many parts, processes and people influencing the change, you cannot claim total victory when you have achieved results hence you need to be able to track your role and how you think it has contributed to the process. Document and celebrate that!

Written by Oluseyi Oyebisi, ED, Nigeria Network of NGOs