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13 Strategies for your Advocacy Campaign - Part 1

Advocacy originates from advocare, ‘call to one’s aid’ or to speak out on behalf of someone. It is the organized efforts by citizens to influence the formulation and implementation of public policies, laws, regulations, programs, distribution of resources and other decisions that affect people’s lives by persuading and pressuring state authorities and other powerful actors. Advocacy also influences socio-political processes that enable and empower the people, to speak for themselves.


Advocacy is generally directed at policy makers (legislature), and government officials and public servants(executive), whose decisions impact people’s lives. It fits into a range of activities that include organizing, lobbying, and campaigning.



Features of Advocacy Campaigns:

An advocacy campaign can be defined broadly as a strategic course of action, involving communication, which is undertaken for a specific purpose or objective. The campaign publicly promotes an agenda, involving platforms and using a variety of tools and communication channels, so that a wider range of audiences can hear the core messages. These include - public demonstrations, protests, letter writing, lobbying, use of media and the internet and legal action, messaging, and an organized set of communication tactics just to name a few.


In their classic study of campaigns Everett Rogers and Douglas Storey (1987) identified 4 features shared by most campaigns:

  1. A campaign is purposeful – you intend specific outcomes from the communication efforts

  2. A campaign is aimed at a large audience – to persuade enough people to make a difference.

  3. A campaign often has a specifically defined time limit – by a deadline when the window for any further action will close.

  4. A campaign involves an organized set of communication activities – evident in the construction of campaign messages and in efforts to educate and/or mobilize different constituencies.



Purpose of Advocacy Campaigns

Advocacy campaigns are done primarily to:

  • create support for a policy or amendment of an existing policy or law, based on its implementation and

  • to build public recognition of an issue.


They are used to raise awareness on important issues and stimulate groups or individuals to seek information and services. An increase in knowledge helps in shaping beliefs, attitudes, social norms, and actual behaviors in the mass public.



Strategic considerations for Advocacy Campaigns

Often citizens and their organisations use a combination of different strategies to achieve their advocacy goals. Strategic communication is essential to any effective campaign. It is important to determine communication channels to be used in the advocacy campaign. This will depend on:

  • the communication preferences and behaviours within the target population.

  • the complexity of information to be shared.

  • the available budget and resources for implementation.


The preferred communication channels often vary depending on age, social group, ethnic background, literacy and education levels, familiarity and access to technology, gender, religion, disability, or other characteristics. While deciding on communication channels, take into consideration ways in which they access information including those who live in geographically isolated areas and those who face barriers to information.



Strategy 1: Creating identity through collective slogans, campaign logo, common objectives, advocacy demands

The identity is what people think and feel about the advocacy campaign and the core issue it deals with. In the commercial sector, this would be equivalent to the brand. Branding matters for advocacy purposes, because if there is a strong identity that is communicated in a clear and consistent manner, it can be more effective in advancing the advocacy goal. Bit by bit, the public, government bodies, and other organizations will recognize the campaign which in turn will enhance its reputation.


Identity is communicated in different ways and generally includes a name, logo, and messaging or slogan. Slogans are messages that people can identify with and understand. A slogan or tagline is the catchphrase or group of words that are put together to identify a cause or issue. It could be a one-sentence slogan as brevity is the key to memorability. Messages should be persuasive and crisp statements about the advocacy issue - what is to be achieved and why this is important. Logos and symbols help sustain movements and campaigns. For example, ‘Red Ribbon’ and the ‘White Ribbon’ logos are instrumental in spreading awareness about HIV and AIDS and eliminating violence against women, respectively. Identity is communicated through the distribution of campaign merchandise such as caps, bags, T-shirts, wrist bands, pens, etc. These provide visibility to the cause and hence help in promoting it.



Strategy 2: Bringing in charismatic advocacy champions

They are usually high profile and eminent individuals who adopt an issue and publicly advocate for it. Usually, such individuals are highly driven, are passionate for the cause, and exhibit a high degree of solidarity rooted in a shared set of beliefs, values, and visions. These advocacy champions or opinion leaders are those persons whose statements are influential with the media, decision-makers, and the public. Reporters are more likely to quote such eminent persons in covering a story than ordinary citizens. For example, the Natural Resources Defence Council (a US-based non-profit international environmental advocacy group) relies upon well-known figures like environmentalists Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and actors Robert Redford or Leonardo Di Caprio as spokespersons.



Strategy 3: Disrupting and creating awareness by demonstrations, non-violent protest, and public disobedience

These are forms of public expression or “community presence” that have been used by various advocacy movements - such as the anti-slavery movement that brought about legislation to end slavery in the 19th century, the trade union movement which led to achieving basic labour rights and improved working conditions, and the women’s movement in different historical periods which gave a push for gender equality and other human rights struggles in various parts of the globe.


There are different forms of non-violent protests that include demonstrations, rallies, marches, vigils, sit-ins, hunger strikes, and other forms of mass meetings. They all aim to achieve goals such as social change while being non-violent. This type of action highlights the desires of a group of people that feels that something needs to change to improve the current condition. They help in publicizing issues, getting attention so that other people become aware and support the cause as well.


A non-violent protest is a symbolic act. This is an effective way to give a policy, practice or issue the exposure it serves. For example, refusal of an award can focus attention on an event or issue. Because it appears shocking or unusual, the symbolic act is talked about long after the action has occurred. The symbolic act must be chosen very carefully.



Strategy 4: Advocacy and awareness events – public hearings, conferences, seminars

Advocacy and awareness events are a gathering of core mission representatives to raise awareness for the cause. They assist in networking a range of stakeholders to discuss a variety of views and lead to new ideas, tactics, and goals. There are various kinds of advocacy events that can be held, one of them being conferences. “A conference is a gathering of people with a common interest or background, with the purposes of allowing them to meet one another and to learn about and discuss issues, ideas, and work that focus on a topic of mutual concern.”[1]


Another way of galvanizing people for the cause is to organize public meetings or town hall meetings or public hearings. These will help to get your message out, galvanize support for your campaign and hold decision-makers to account. Invite those who are directly affected by the issues, the wider community, service providers and representatives of concerned government departments and your local representatives.



Strategy 5: Mobilizing a network of activists and organizations

A network is often seen as a loose association of people or groups brought together by a common interest. A network usually has a set of organisations with diverse strengths and relationships and trust between them. An advocacy network is a group of individuals and/or organizations working together with a common goal of achieving changes in policies, laws, or programs for an advocacy issue. One way to think about it is like an ecosystem-different actors work together - some more closely than others. In short, a network consists of multiple actors with multiple objectives.


Examples:

 

The Right to Food Campaign in India: an example of how a network spearheaded a campaign


The Right to Food Campaign in India is an informal, decentralized network of individuals and organizations committed to the realization of the right to food. The campaign began in 2001, as an offshoot of public interest litigation (litigation undertaken to secure public interest and to demonstrate the availability of justice to disadvantaged parties) in the Supreme Court of India, and quickly grew into a country-wide movement.


Genesis of the campaign: The campaign began with a writ petition submitted to the Supreme Court in April 2001 by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Rajasthan. “The prevalence of ‘hunger amidst plenty’ in India took a new turn in mid-2001, as the country’s food stock reached unprecedented levels, while hunger intensified in drought-affected areas and elsewhere.”[2] This situation prompted PUCL to approach the Supreme Court of India with a writ petition on the ‘right to food’. “Initially the case was brought against the Government of India, Food Corporation of India and six state governments, in the specific contexts of inadequate drought relief.”[3] Later the case was extended to the larger issue of chronic hunger, with all states and union territories as respondents.


The legal basis of the petition is simple. “Article 21 of the Constitution is a guarantee of the "right to life” and imposes upon the state the duty to protect it. This right is fundamental. The Supreme Court has held in previous cases that the right to life includes the right to live with dignity and all that goes along with it, including the right to food.”[4] The petition argues that the response to the drought situation by central and state governments, in terms both of policy and implementation, constitutes a clear violation of this right. The bulk of the petition used government and field-based data from Rajasthan. Briefly, the petition demanded that the country’s gigantic food stocks should be used without delay to protect people from hunger and starvation. “This petition led to a prolonged PIL (PUCL vs Union of India and Others Writ Petition [Civil] 196 of 2001).”[5] Supreme Court hearings were held at regular intervals, and significant ‘interim orders’ were issued from time to time. However, it soon became clear that the legal process would not go far on its own. This motivated the effort to build a large campaign on the right to food.


In interim orders dated 8 May 2002 and 2 May 2003 respectively, the Supreme Court-appointed “commissioners” for the purpose of monitoring the implementation of all orders relating to the right to food case. The Commissioners were “empowered to enquire about any violations of these orders and to demand redressal with the full authority of the”[6] Supreme Court. The appointment of the Commissioners was an important opportunity for the campaign, even though the Commissioners was an independent structure set up by the Supreme Court. Members of the state's right to food networks regularly gave assistance to the Commissioners.



Structure: The network builds on local initiatives and voluntary cooperation. The campaign has a small secretariat that plays a basic facilitating role (eg. maintaining the website: www.righttofoodcampaign.in). Most of the secretariat’s work is done by volunteers.

The campaign has a steering group that consists of members of various national networks, members of state right to food campaigns, invited members of local campaigns and other committed individuals.


Activities: The Right to Food campaign has undertaken a wide range of activities to advocate for various demands. Examples include organizing public hearings, rallies, protests (dharnas), foot marches (padyatras), conventions, action-oriented research, media advocacy, and lobbying of Members of Parliament. To illustrate, on 9 April 2002 activities of this kind took place across the country as part of a national "day of action on mid-day meals". “This event was instrumental in persuading several state governments to initiate cooked mid-day meals in primary schools. Similarly, in May-June 2005, the campaign played a leading role in the Right to Employment March (Rozgar Adhikar Yatra), a 50-day tour of India's poorest districts to demand the[7] immediate enactment of a National Employment Guarantee Act.”

 

Strategy 6: Creating a buzz on Public Media

Media is the plural form of ‘medium’ and includes forms of communication - television and radio (electronic media), newspapers, magazines, and written materials (print media) and more often now, the Internet - used to spread or transmit information to the public. “A free, objective, skilled media is an essential component of any democratic society.”[8]


Media advocacy is the use of any form of media to help promote a cause. The media’s reach to many people offers a powerful tool to inform and build support around an issue or to make responsible, informed choices. Besides reaching out to large numbers of people they influence public attitudes and opinions on important public matters. It helps to create a reliable consistent awareness of the issue and activities. There are several tools that can be used to influence the media, including:

  • press releases, events, and press conference

  • letters to the editor

  • television interviews

  • newsletters and briefs

  • seminars, workshops, and debates

  • articles and news items, personal interest stories and success stories.


The messages need to have solid content, framed to draw media attention. Journalists are always looking for fresh breakthroughs such as the newest research.



Advocacy Strategies
Source: Africa Platform for Social Protection, 2017, Advocacy Tool Kit,’ Be the Change you want to see’

More advocacy strategies coming soon in Part 2. Stay tuned for more!




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[1]Chapter 12. Providing Training and Technical Assistance | Section 5. Organizing a Conference | Main Section | Community Tool Box (ku.edu) [2]The ‘Right to Food Case’: The 'Right to Food' Case - Right to Food Campaign (google.com) [3]Ibid [4]Ibid [5]Ibid [6]Ibid [7]Ibid [8]The Role of Media in Democracy: A strategic approach, US Agency for International Development, 1999. GSDRC, Applied Knowledge Services. The Role of Media in Democracy: A Strategic Approach - GSDRC


References

Work Zone Public Information and Outreach Strategies (2020): U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration


The UN Migration Agency, Knowledge Uptake (2020): Information Campaigns, International Organization for Migration (IOM)



The Right to Food Campaign’s website: www.righttofoodcampaign.in





About the Author

Sohini Paul has a Social Science background with master’s degrees in Geography and Regional Planning. She is a certified Life and Leadership Coach. She has more than two decades of experience in the development sector, during which time she supported the work of numerous social change organizations, working on issues of local self-governance, right to information and land rights. She has worked on capacity building of civil society organizations, from grassroots community groups to large networks. Sohini is passionate about civil society strengthening and holds space for those who are ready to learn and be happy - this is reflected in her facilitation style.



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