Please note: This is based on my practice and the experience from the work and not necessarily theory or plainly academic, hence I may not have used some terms or definitions correctly.
What is advocacy?
In straight forward terms it is advocacy is CHANGING a policy, law, perspective, perception, behavior, harmful belief, cultural practices, opinion or thoughts etc. using evidence- research and targeted messaging.
Advocacy also includes raising awareness by running campaigns and providing policy options or recommendations. It may also include lobbying (if local laws permit).
Usually advocacy is issue based. For example Feminism and the ongoing message from the pulpit by the Oyedepos.
To run an effective advocacy a stakeholder analysis is important to understand who are the people that are for or against the issue. What are they saying? What influence do they have? What do they already know? Who are the experts and gatekeepers of the issue in focus? What are the current happenings and trends on the issue? What needs to change? What do we need to tell them (those for and against) to either change their position on the issue or reinforce it? Who has more influence or are the influencers? There are many questions that can be asked with the aim of being able to develop a robust advocacy strategy.
To answer these questions a research plan (desk/rapid research) is developed. The plan will look at providing answers to the questions above and more. Part of the research is to also do a desk review of what some of the stakeholders have said in the past and now through news articles, publications etc. that shows their thinking on the issue. Note that in your desk research, you are looking for hard facts and examples that can be referenced.
Once the research is concluded and you have answers to all your advocacy research questions, then you move to develop and implement an advocacy plan.
The advocacy plan will naturally include how (strategies) to address findings from each of the research questions, a list of champions (those already working on or sympathetic to the issue and those against), advocacy targets – individuals and institutions you want to see making the needed changes.
It will also include what messages needs to be passed to them and how (tools- radio/tv interviews or programmes, social media campaigns, policy briefs, road shows, walks, in person meetings, high-level advocacy visits, information sharing, education and communication materials (IEC), letter writing, petitions, concerts, novelty matches, conferences, protests – this is the last resort when all other steps have failed) or who (champions that can reach out and also speak publicly on the issue). Resources (financial, human, partnerships/collaborations, risk assessment and mitigation strategies) needed will also be included and a monitoring and evaluation plan too. Your advocacy plan must be culturally sensitive as well.
Note that in advocacy, messaging – what is said and how it is said is key and it is informed by your ability to listen to understand your stakeholders with the aim of developing your message in ways that helps to change their position on the issue or reinforce it.
Sentiments, bias, emotions and stereotypes must also be factored in BUT properly teased out (contextualised) to be addressed and turned into messaging or addressed through properly structured and targeted messaging.
Attributes of a good advocate
A good advocate must be proactive, think critically – evaluating all options and digging deeper to find root causes, be resilient, strategist, good at communicating (writing and speaking), comfortable with being misunderstood, have the ability to rise above pettiness, aim to focus on the technicalities of the issues while finely balancing and understanding the politics.
S/he must understand that not everyone would like him or her and be ready to work with his or her enemies to get or achieve results. S/he must avoid sentiments and must stay objective at all times. Gatekeepers and donors in your field may sometimes be the enemy within – learn to factor that in too and always be gauging and scanning the environment. Sometimes too, this segment of your target audience may be the target of your advocacy – never shy away from that.
Issues based advocacy is not a straight line. You must be agile on your plans and be ready to change course based on new information, realities and learnings. Hence your plan should be fluid. Advocacy has many parts, processes and people influencing the change, you cannot claim total victory when you have achieved results hence you need to be able to track your role and how you think it has contributed to the process. Document and celebrate that!