Looking for change? Action!

Advocacy seems to be “à la mode” and figures in the plans of many platforms and individual organisations as an important strategic area of their work. Putting it in a plan is one thing but putting it in practice is another. Many advocacy efforts end with submitting a position paper to a high ranking governmental official.

If your goal is to influence government so they change laws and policies for the benefit of the people you are working with (your beneficiaries), advocacy is a way to go. It demands a diversity of well targeted actions, knowing when to undertake which actions and, most of all, being prepared to operate proactively and reactively when the moment presents itself. It is important to reflect on what we do when we say we do “advocacy” and how we do it, in order to reach the results we envision and obtain the change we want to see.

Be prepared!

Advocacy is action but one cannot underestimate the most important phase: preparing the message and the approach. Advocacy can be a powerful tool used to influence what the government is doing and the laws and policies they formulate, as well as how they put them in practice. Powerful yes, but when contributions to the content of laws and policies are not planned and prepared, you are “crying without content”. The impact of your advocacy actions will be minimal or even have an adverse effect by affecting the credibility of civil society to be a valuable talking partner with government.

Advocacy actions should be preceded by a whole phase of preparation: analysing the context and existing laws and policies, formulating what you want to be included or changed (your message), understanding the counter arguments possible and how to challenge them, knowing how laws and policies are formulated in your country (the “policy cycle”), where you are allowed to enter the discussion formally or informally, who you need to talk to, etc.

Knowing your target audience before you start the action is also extremely important for your messages to pass. You need to develop messages for each of them using language that speaks to them. So, lots to do before the actual action starts.

Be strategic and anticipate!

Where to start and what to do? Advocacy is a strategy used to target those in power to make the changes you want to see in the legal framework. It is about strategically approaching the changes you want from different angles and through a diversity of actions:actions that you see as most fitting the context of the moment.

The policy cycle informs where you can and need to enter the discussion. Is the law you want to influence discussed in the senate? Then you better find a senator that is interested in the issue and discuss your ideas with them or develop a flyer that you can hand out in front of the senate to inform all senators about your ideas. It may surprise you to find that they are very happy to receive that information. You are assisting them in their work! And these are just some ideas about advocacy actions you can undertake.

Target and diversify actions and channels!

Know your audience, know who you want to influence, and make sure you approach different persons, not just one senator, but many senators, or get the newspaper or radio involved to broadcast your message the day before the senate meets. And for each different group you target, the message should be tailored and possibly communicated in different forms using different channels. Diversifying action and channels are powerful in reaching different audiences. These can include verbal channels (speeches, slogans), written channels (flyers, position papers, newspaper articles, banners), radio, TV, to name some.

Supporters and allies!

Advocacy is preferably not a lonely exercise undertaken by an individual organisation. The power is in it being a communal action undertaken with a group of organisations supporting the same cause. Engage communities (beneficiaries) to play their part in the advocacy and undertake action at a local level. This could be a sit-in at the same moment the senate is going to meet or making a video that can be shown to senators explaining their situation. There are plenty of possibilities.

Follow up!

Follow up provides you with an indication of the impact of your actions and where the strategy might need to be adapted. This is a good reason to have a succession of actions and to become more strategic and reactive to what happens.


Do you still want to do advocacy? Or is it too much work? Yes, it is hard work, and a lot needs to be prepared to be able to be proactive and reactive when opportunities for action present themselves. But do not forget, advocacy can be rewarding, bringing you the change you want to see and being a part of it.

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About the author

Stephany Kersten

Stephany joined Well Grounded in April 2017. The red ribbon through her career in development has been setting up and facilitating participatory processes, and supporting local organisations to be empowered to work independently on self defined issues.

Stephany is from the Netherlands, where she did her MSc in Tropical Agriculture and Rural Development, followed by a PhD in multi-stakeholder participatory process development obtained in Australia.

A result Stephany is most proud of is the promulgated Parity law in the DRC, where she played a role as facilitator of the advocacy strategy.