As I whizzed round the Philippines recently, the many conversations about advocacy brought together several past conversations and hobby horses. So here, laid before an indifferent world, (and because everyone loves lists) are my 7 top (and very random) tips for how to sharpen up your advocacy work.
What’s your Home Page?: Everyone in the team should set Google Reader or similar as their home page. When they turn on the computer in the morning, they should spend half an hour reading its contents, before diving into the email backlog. (For non techies, Owen Barder explains how to set it up). Why? Because advocacy is about knowing what’s going on in the world outside, not being on top of your emails. And nothing impresses in the first meeting of the day more than casually asking ‘did you see Krugman’s piece in the New York Times this morning?’
How are you reducing your level of e-navel gazing? Irungu Houghton, who directs Oxfam’s Pan Africa programme uses number of business cards collected by members of his team as a performance indicator. Alternatively, what % of your emails end in @oxfam.org? How do you propose to reduce it? Do you remonstrate with colleagues who clog up your inbox by hitting ‘reply all’ and saying things like ‘yes’? Why? Hours in the day/opportunity costs – advocacy is about engaging with them, not us.
Getting/training the right people
Hire refugees from target organizations: nothing like an ex-City boy, or hydrocarbon girl for knowing how financial/oil & gas companies operate, and having credibility in speaking and lobbying. Ditto those who’ve worked for governments, whether in the North, or in developing countries (one reason why so many ex ODI fellows work for Oxfam).
Secondments: If you can’t hire from them, at least try and ensure your policy people go and spend a week or two working for a target institution (aid agency, government, private sector company). Why? Because advocacy is about getting inside the heads of your targets, understanding their cultures, language and incentive systems. Can’t do that if you’re living in an echo chamber.
Immersions: You can’t do effective development advocacy if you haven’t spent time with a poor community in years. Why? You lose conviction and passion; you become just another bureaucrat; you start to resemble ‘them’. And what if (shudder) someone actually asks you ‘when was the last time you talked to a poor person’?
Apply your power analysis and theories of change internally: It always surprises me that when sophisticated Oxfam lobbyists, with a subtle grasp of power and the nature of change, want to get stuck into internal battles, they leave all those skills at the door. Windows of opportunity? Killer facts? Iconic stories? Coalitions of interest? Nope, moaning and finger wagging should do it……. Why? Because internal power battles matter – resources, organizational priority etc are crucial. And anyway, there’s nothing boosts team morale more than winning those arcane internal battles.
Finally, when was the last time you stole a good idea from a smaller organization? Why? Because big INGOs don’t know everything, and all the problems of navel-gazing, internal transactions etc mean that small organizations are often quicker to spot and respond to an emerging issue or develop new ideas – we want to be more Google, less Microsoft, right? When I was at CAFOD, my two main UK targets were HM Treasury (to take up our suggestion) and Oxfam (to steal it). (Don’t get me wrong – you should of course credit the source of the idea).