As society becomes better informed and people’s voices can be heard, advocacy becomes more relevant. Very recently, we saw how the citizens of Hong Kong took to the streets to advocate that their government withdraw legislation for a new law concerning extradition.
Advocacy is about influencing and persuading individuals or institutions to change, and advocacy communication is any planned communication that seeks to achieve the communication goals: to inform, to persuade and move to action. For example, we can advocate for change of policies or laws that affect society, but this may not go smoothly if we cannot communicate the ideas and proposals effectively.
Through advocacy communication, we translate our advocacy goal into a concise and compelling case for action to policy makers. Instead of just informing them that there is an issue you are advocating, advocacy communication will make them pay more attention through the prepared activities and materials. What we want is for them to learn and understand our key message communicated through multiple channels and then make the desired response.
In short, advocacy communication focuses on influencing specific audiences by means of specific messages to deliver a change in policy. Some examples of advocacy communication could be a policy brief—a short document highlighting the relevance of specific research that offers recommendations for change; materials such as a fact-sheet, infographics, leaflets and posters can also be developed. A meeting can be organised for a formal presentation to advocate ideas.
There is also lobbying, which can be defined as an attempt to influence policymakers to take specific actions concerning an issue. This could start with a conversation in an elevator or during an afternoon lunch. Having a dynamic website is also a great communication device as it presents updates, stories, voices from the field and reports. Put as much information regarding the issue that you think will interest people. And then there are the organised demonstrations.
The essential elements for effective advocacy communication comprise a clear vision, SMART objectives aimed at solving the problem, extensive knowledge of whom your target audiences are and a compelling message tailored for the different stakeholders. The message you send to policy makers will be different than the message you present to the press. Therefore, you have to use a variety of different communication channels. Your plan must be well thought out and include systematic monitoring and evaluation to make sure it reaches your objectives.
Your first step in advocacy communication should be situation analysis, which means a systematic identification and evaluation of internal and external factors that may influence your performance and plans.
Sometimes, we are so eager to advocate an issue, we jump right into starting a campaign without analysing the setting and situation, and very often an organisation is not geared up to implement its plan.
With situation analysis, we establish a detailed and realistic picture of the strengths and weaknesses as well as the opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis) that can help us determine the best course of action.
In situation analysis, we analyse not only our organization, but other relevant organisations and individuals as well, such as advocacy partners if we have any as well as the resources available to us.
Points to consider when analysing an organisation can include organisation policy - Do the policies in your organisation accommodate the communication campaign that you are going to work on? Structure - What’s the structure? Who will take the lead or act as the decision-maker in your organisation? Who can form a team? Who will the team report to? Experience - Does your organisation have experience in conducting this kind of communication campaign? If you have, how did past campaigns go? Human resources - Do you have the human resources to conduct the campaign? If you do, do they have the proficiency or need training? And last but not least, financial resources - Does your organisation have sufficient budget to advocate the issue?
Once, you’ve completed your analysis, the next step is planning your strategy, which includes developing a message based on the tangible and intangible attributes to promote your stand on the issue.