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The Advocacy Canvas - An analysis and planning overview for advocacy campaigns

Log-frame, theory of change, impact chain, business plan, or business model canvas: for projects or businesses a series of standard tools have been developed to analyze the business or project environment and to plan and re-assess initiatives. Those standard tools are widely accepted and used.

For advocacy campaigns, there is no such standard tool. Sometimes log-frames are used to plan campaigns, sometimes action plans are developed, but most often, there is no comprehensive or documented plan at all. Nevertheless, campaigns can be very successful and straightforward even though no comprehensive plan is available, especially when the problem is very focused—for instance on no GMOs, (Genetically Modified Organisms)—and strong campaigners drive the advocacy campaign, providing analysis, vision, and leadership.

However, if campaigns are more collective efforts with distributed leadership, it is useful to use methodologies to analyze and plan in a participatory, transparent manner. The advocacy canvas is such a methodology. It is based on the business model canvas, which has been described by Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010) as a shared language for describing, visualizing, assessing, and changing business models—or in our case, advocacy campaigns. In our adaptation of the canvas, we replaced the business logic with an advocacy logic.

Advocacy in this article mostly refers to policy advocacy, i.e., the process to influence policymaking (developing new and existing policies)—and influencing the implementation of policies.

Advantages of the Advocacy Canvas

The main advantages of using the advocacy canvas follow:

  • It is comprehensive: The canvas includes an analysis (blue part), an advocacy plan (red part) and a resource plan (green part).

  • It is visual and participatory: It is a simple overview. You can easily analyze and plan together with a team and come to a common understanding of the different aspects of the advocacy campaign. Every member of the campaign team can contribute and define their role.

  • It is capacity development: The work on the canvas develops knowledge and skills related to advocacy and strengthens the team’s involvement and ownership in relation to the campaign.

  • It is an iterative process: Though you start on one component or field of the canvas, the team will repeatedly return to each component and analyze to see if that component still fits with the rest of the canvas. Mostly Post-its, pin-boards or online whiteboards are used for developing a canvas, so amendments are always possible.

  • Progress can be easily assessed: The canvas enables the team to easily assess progress or change framework conditions as well. Accordingly, the canvas should be regularly updated.

The advocacy canvas is applicable for campaigns that look at a time frame that is not too long (probably up to five years) and with an objective that is not too broad. If an organization has a broad mandate for advocacy, it is better to plan multiple campaigns. Ideally, these campaigns would be embedded in an organizational strategy, or best in an advocacy strategy, which would serve as a framework for the different campaigns.

Advocacy Canvas
© Advocacy Canvas by Civil Society Academy

How to use the Advocacy Canvas

At first, you will have to discuss with key partners how inclusive you would like the planning exercise to be. Generally, it is good to be more inclusive, but the larger the group the better prepared you need to be. You will also need an experienced facilitator for a large group. If the group is new to the canvas and to advocacy campaigns, it will take at least three days to maneuver through the different parts of the canvas and develop a coherent campaign.

Here are the main steps you would look at during the workshop:

1. Blue - Analysis:

To build common ground, you start the work by analyzing the problem, identifying the most affected people, and assessing the policies/realities that are causing problems. A good problem analysis would prioritize the key issues in a participatory manner.

You probably already have a solution to the problem in mind. However, you should spend time to clearly define the expected solution, especially in terms of policies, laws, and regulations: Are new policies or laws needed? Can existing policies or laws be amended? Or should the solution instead implement the existing policies and laws in a better way?

Finally, you would look at the key influencers and list the main groups or individuals that you should target with your campaign, for instance a certain minister, parliamentarians, the head of a think tank or a member of the state planning committee. For each key influencer, you should define your expectations. What do you expect the key influencers to do to contribute to the solution?

To deepen your analysis, we recommend you use common appraisal tools at this stage, such as problem trees, developing persona for the most affected groups, and stakeholder mapping. An in-depth policy analysis or a comprehensive context analysis, which includes many elements, may also be considered.

© Illustration by Civil Society Academy

Using outcome mapping

Instead of using conventional target setting, we have recently started using outcome mapping, which is very useful when it comes to complex and non-linear changes. Advocacy usually happens in such a complex context, where normal target setting is difficult: Initiatives simply do not have sufficient control over what is happening to adequately predict the future (i.e., the target).

In outcome mapping, we therefore do not set targets such as “our key demands are fulfilled,” but we instead look at the attitudes and behavioral changes of key influencers of a campaign. Those changes in behaviors are defined as “expect to see,” “like to see,” and “love to see,” which constitutes the ladder of change.

For instance, we may define three key influencers in our campaign, whose behaviors are most critical to achieving our campaign goal, say the minister of agriculture, a member of the planning committee, and an influential advisor of the governing party. We would then go and define their behaviors now, and our intended changes (Outcomes). If we take the example of the influential advisor, we could define the following outcomes:

  • We love to see that he rallies his party behind the demands of our campaigns and moves towards policy change

  • We like to see that he discusses our demands in the inner circle of his party

  • We expect to see that the advisor listens to the demands of the campaign

These mapped outcomes could then guide the strategies of the campaign (i.e., to get the attention of the advisor and his buy in to the advocacy asks). Consecutively, the outcomes would also be used for monitoring the progress of the campaign.


2. Red – Advocacy Plan:

The red part is the actual plan. It is similar to the components of a log-frame and features a goal and key activities. But this part of the canvas also summarizes some of the main strategic decisions that are necessary to define a campaign, such as:

  • Is the campaign collaborative or confrontational towards the state?

  • Is your focus on evidence-based advocacy or on people-centered advocacy?

  • What exactly is your role? A facilitator of people’s actions or a campaigner?

  • What type of campaign strategies are most appropriate to reach your advocacy goal? These strategies might involve legal advocacy, protest action, petitions, online advocacy, creating evidence through video, and many more. For inspiration, please refer to the next article: Strategies for your advocacy campaign!

Such questions are critical to defining your course of action and which advocacy tools you ultimately use.

Further, the red part also looks at the actual advocacy demands. Here, a few key demands should be developed that can be easily communicated. All campaigners should be familiar with the key demands and use them repeatedly. You may also look at the key influencers (in the blue part) at this stage and see what key demands you have towards each of those important stakeholders.

3. Green – Resource Plan:

In a third step, you should look at the resources you have on hand, and the resources of your key partners and allies. It is important to discuss the timescale (as realistic as possible), the kind of partnership you envisage, for instance joint management, planning or assessment, or even a common campaign secretariat.

After such a first assessment of resources and a basic understanding of partnerships, you can move on, to plan additional resource requirements and identify potential donors.

After the group completes a first draft of the canvas, you should go back to all components once again: make additions where needed, take out irrelevant points, give it more focus, or more coherence.

From here you will probably move forward, toward building structures such as partnerships/networks or coalitions and teams to implement the plan. But do not wear blinders. Re-assessing plans, and challenging your analysis is particularly important if you are working with advocacy initiatives. Make your canvas visible in the office and give it a thought—from time to time.

Impressions: Advocacy Planning supported by the Civil Society Academy in Ranchi, India

Advocacy Planning supported by the Civil Society Academy in Ranchi
Advocacy Planning supported by the Civil Society Academy in Ranchi



Osterwalder, Alex, and Yves Pigneur. 2010. Business Model Generation. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.


About the Author:

Joachim Schwarz is passionate about social justice and on a mission to support like-minded civil society actors and social entrepreneurs to become more powerful and innovative. Hence, in 2014 he left his NGO career to build the Civil Society Academy. He is an outstanding facilitator and coach with expertise in social innovation, leadership, organisational change, and advocacy. After more than 20 years in Africa and Asia, he is now based in Berlin.


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