Continuing my series on advocacy, this post looks at a few broad aspects to consider when building your advocacy strategy. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) advocacy toolkit highlights four important aspects, which are:
Context: In some countries and environments, it may be best to focus on advocacy at the local or international level, as opposed to the national level. Political environments vary, with differing opportunities and constraints. Culture, religion and the level of economic development in a given society can affect its level of tolerance and openness to social change.
Timing: Opportunities and constraints are created during distinct moments in history. Events such as economic changes, elections, international conferences and demonstrations can draw significant attention to an issue.
Organization: It is important to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your organization. The UNICEF toolkit poses a set of question advocacy practitioners should ask at the onset. The questions are aimed at practitioners within UNICEF, but they are still valid for other development and social organizations: How broad and strong is your potential support? Do you have well-placed allies? Is there a strong sense of common purpose among the leadership? Is decision-making efficient and responsive? What resources can you rely on? Are your aims clear and achievable? Can you draw on organizational history for learning and inspiration? Are advocates and participants open to viewing initiatives that didn’t succeed as valued opportunities for learning?
Risk: The UNICEF toolkit reminds practitioners that not all advocacy strategies can be used universally. Certain strategies that may prove effective in one context may be politically dangerous or reduce the potential for long-term change in another. It is important that advocacy practitioners understand and weigh the potential risks associated with their strategy. For example, challenging relationships and cultures that affect power dynamics will likely generate conflict. Advocacy practitioners should therefore find ways to navigate through such opposition and challenges without taking on unnecessary risk. However, sometimes certain risks need to be taken when there are no other options.