Advocacy efforts take many forms, and can leverage power, identity, values, opportunity, and generational or cultural shifts. They can elicit sympathy, anger or celebration among advocates, leaders and the population. Advocacy is cultural, social and political and reflects its own time and place.
In trainings and work around the world, I take a very broad view and define advocacy as a push for change. Individuals, organizations, or communities advocate for rights, recognition, services, projects or assistance.
Advocacy efforts need not always be directed at government. I have seen disability rights advocates push the medical community and corruption advocates fight for change in the judiciary. I have also seen women advocates focus their persuasive efforts on community leaders to change views on early marriage.
I have also seen a broad variety of tactics used to bring change. Some are cooperative, such as joint advocacy by Afghan local government and civic leaders in order to get approvals and resources from a national ministry. Some friends that work in a think-tank in Montenegro like to push policies by educating elected officials on their agenda. Some advocacy efforts are loaded with controversy, such as an effort I worked on to close loopholes of civil rights enforcement in the United States.
There is one universal element of advocacy common to all counties. I have included it here because it is the most important take-away for advocates around the world and if it in the blog, it might be missed. Identify and map whether the problem is a policy decision, its implementation or the community’s understanding of it.
Policy, Law, Decision The problem is the decision, policy or law, and the target is decision makers in government or communities. Decisions can also be a decision, pledge or a letter by a decision-maker. Problems with voter lists require decisions from Election Commissions. Governors may need to write an executive order or Medical Boards may need to vote on a new protocol. These are problems solved by advocacy for a decision or policy.
Implementation The problem is the implementation or practices of that decision. The target is a government agency, courts, police or other implementers. There are many laws against children working, but most police and courts refuse to prosecute parents. Government gives money to schools, but often students don’t receive what is sent for them. These are problems solved by advocacy efforts about the implementation of a decision.
Community Support The problem is with community understanding or support of the law. Advocacy targets are a target audience or the entire population to inform, encourage them to act or change behaviors. People know that they should not throw garbage on empty land, but they do. There are laws against family violence, but people still hit children. These are problems with community support of a law, and are often solved through public awareness or behavior change campaigns.
I shared with Nigerian NGO trainers to show how this focuses the effort.
Nigeria Car Seatbelt Law
- Already passed into law by the Parliament and the President. Does anything need to be added to the law? Are there any loopholes?
Enforcement / Implementation
- Does the Road Safety Agency give tickets for those not wearing seat belts?
- Does the court support these tickets and fine people that don’t pay them?
- Do driving schools require seat belt education?
- Does more need to be done here?
Community Support: Behavior of Drivers
- Are there poster or billboard on roadsides as reminders?
- Are there mentions in media when safety belts were not used during an accident?
- Is there school based education on road safety?
- Does more need to be done here?