More History, less Maths – FP2P flashback

August 17, 2011

10 Challenges to 'business as usual' for development agencies: FP2P flashback

August 17, 2011

Advocacy v Service Delivery in Russia: FP2P flashback

August 17, 2011
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Next up in this holiday week selection of largely unread posts from the early days of the blog, a story from Russia

Contrasting case studies from Oxfam GB’s Russia programme, which has tried different ways of supporting Russia’s estimated 5.6 million disabled people. Traditionally, we have run a microfinance programme which has benefited a total of 40,000 people – 5,500 recipients plus other beneficiaries, such as family members. Total expenditure to date some £2m ($3.1m and falling…..). Recently, however, we tried something different – advocacy.

Up until this year, disabled people in Russia had to register every year in order to be entitled to work and to receive benefits from the Russian government. This proved to be both time consuming (up to six months of every year), humiliating and sometimes ridiculous. Someone with an amputated leg had to prove every year that the leg had not magically grown back over the intervening twelve months. And only then would it be possible to get entitlement to benefits.

Natalia, the leader of a self help group for disabled people in Russia, supported by Oxfam, told us what this meant for her, “I am permanently disabled, and yet every year I have to go through a six month process to prove to the government that I am disabled – this process is humiliating and tiring. You go back and forth and back and forth to the doctors and go through so much bureaucracy. I am young and fit so I am able to do this process but imagine if you are a pensioner in an isolated village – it is impossible. Those who have been injured and have lost limbs, still have to prove every year that they are disabled – it is a degrading system!”

Working with the Global Call to Action on Poverty (GCAP) coalition in Russia, Oxfam staffer Vitaliy Kartamyshev included the issue of registration for disabled people in a more wide-ranging report on healthcare in Russia. The report proposed a change to the regulation so that people who are permanently disabled only have to register once in their lives.

In March 2008 the report was launched at a national press conference. This was followed by intensive lobbying of senior government officials at the Ministry of Health and the parliament (Duma). The regulation № 247 on “introducing changes in the rules of recognizing disability” was passed on April 7, 2008 by the Ministry of Health . The government adopted the precise change in regulation concerning disabled people proposed by GCAP.

Total cost of the campaign, in terms of Oxfam spending? About £100,000 ($155,000). This change will affect tens of thousands of people, including an unknown number that have simply given up registering because of the hassle, and may now be persuaded to claim benefits.

It’s hard to compare the two approaches – service delivery is pleasingly concrete, and so it is easier to assess its impact. Advocacy work often suffers from issues of attribution (did the Russian government change its law because of the campaign, or would it have done so anyway?) and impact (how do you measure the impact on people’s wellbeing of not having to waste six months a year wrangling with officialdom?) Advocacy more closely resembles a venture capitalist approach – of ten such campaigns, maybe only one or two will achieve their aims, but they will ‘win big’, whereas service delivery appeals more to the predictable world of logframes and planners. What’s clear from this example, though, is that both have their place in the NGO armoury, which is why, over time, advocacy has become more significant in Oxfam and other NGOs’ work (though it still remains a small proportion of the total spend).

This post was first published in October 2008

7 comments

  1. Advocacy vs service delivery? Are these the choices?

    What about a change model of achieving scale by advocating for replication of tested, local-level pilots? This is what we are moving towards in EA. It implies that service delivery programmes have to be designed as models, and with a view to replication at scale. And it implies that our advocacy has to be rooted in local-level experience.

  2. Fair point that advocacy and service delivery can be combined – that’s the model I described in an earlier post on Viet Nam. Apologies for setting up false dichotomies!

  3. No doubt the advocacy approach offers many more risks and opportunities for development, and human security — than the politically neutral service delivery approach.

    The risks are, as I’ve observed with my own eyes, that ill-defined advocacy becomes an aimless and unstructured pursuit — an excuse for lots of travel, conferences, and rhetoric. Often NGOs appear to ‘speak out’ in ways that make them feel satisfied but that have no discernable positive impact. An acrimonious debate between Alex de Waal of the Social Science Research Council and John Pendergrast of the International Crisis Group focuses on the possibility that advocacy as ‘speaking out’ over Darfur has done more harm than good.

    However, the opportunities of advocacy are highlighted by the example Duncan gives above. And ultimately, no matter how pleasing it is to manage tangible programmes, human security is often governed by politics and power. Take the Goma disaster currently unfolding, do the people need aid programmes or political intervention — even military intervention — with rebels and Rwandans etc? The point is that intelligent political advocacy is very often more relevant than material aid.

    That said, I sincerely believe that advocacy could be done in a far more measured and well thought out way. Here the private sector, governments, and political parties have demonstrated how ‘communications’ can be used to change the world. Such techniques are being applied and adapted only tentatively by advocates for human security. But the potential seems great, if these techniques are carefully developed to such ends. Warning: Advocacy in this sense must be strictly differentiated from organisational fundraising and branding.

  4. Great to see this work featuring on your blog Duncan. GCAP & Oxfam Russia have done some amazing work in a context in which many others have given up on seeking to influence change for the most marginalised. The model quoted also draws on evidence/ credibility from service deivery as I understand it? As the posting cites, Oxfam & partners worked with other NGOs to estabish self-help groups, and NGOs involved in GCAP include those that deliver servcies to marginalised groups. As Matt observes, the credibility of low cost pilots by GCAP members that ‘get their hands dirty’ help provide GCAP with legitimacy to put forward a workable solution? Having a broad based coalition and developing ‘helpful’ rather than threatening propositions to government probably also play a role…

  5. Service provision usually is an ultimate choice to address urgent needs and problems, where tackling the roots of causes of problems is what advocacy can and have to do, to achieve long term solutions. Both approaches are feasible based on potential change probabilities: service provision turns less effective as soon as the probability of policy change grows. This said, however, there are issues and problems, which can not be fixed by “system” or “environment” change.

  6. This is something that should not every happen to people.No matter what their disablely is,and no where on this earth.This is what wrong with the world today,no one cares,about people just themselves.

  7. Duncan, you make the point that advocacy and service delivery can be combined, however I think together they achieve more than the sum of the parts. Managing them in together you can end up with a virtuous circle, where the improvements in service delivery and policy build on one another. When no progress has been made, you need the pilot to demonstrate what can be achieved and to generate the evidence base for the advocacy campaign.

    A key issue with any programme is its scalability and sustainability. Advocacy can help build momentum to the roll out of that model – improving its scalability. It can also ensure the policy changes that may ensure the new model is politically and financially sustainable.

    Going back to Russia, 15 years ago, there was a huge problem of the institutionalisation of vulnerable children. The State ran the orphanages and the State knew best. Working with Moscow city government, Maria Ternovskaya and her team at ‘Our Family’ demonstrated there was a different model – one based around family centred care of vulnerable children. Over the next 5 years Maria’s research documented the social and economic benefits of this programme, and enabled the team to work out the changes needed to the traditional social support structures – and even more important, the legal reform necessary. Highly targeted advocacy was necessary to bring about that legal reform.

    Now the City of Moscow, Perm region, Kaliningrad, Novgorod, Altayskiy Kray, Kurgan region and Orenbourg region have adopted the legislation based on the Our Family model. Bashkiria, Karelia, Vladimir, Archangelsk, Smolensk and Pskov regions started pilot projects, many other regions are considering a possibility to start this work as well.

    Two years ago Our Family went from being an internationally supported project to a self standing Russian organisation. Being a Russian organisation facilitates the advocacy work which needs to be with or by the staff locally rather than for them – as in the case of international advocacy – which in Russia’s case (and most other states for that matter), is politically charged, and can have quite unintended consequences.

    This is by no means the end of the story. Getting the model adopted in the other regions is going to mean a huge effort – and there is always a reaction to any new model. Nevertheless change will continue to be made as the model becomes ever better adapted – and the advocacy programme continued.

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