Top tips for more effective advocacy

As I whizzed round the Philippines recently, the many conversations about advocacy brought together several past conversations and Top Tips logo#5#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.

Technical Fixes:

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 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? stealing ideasBecause 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).

See also Grey Panthers, harnessing universities, research for impact etc etc. Any other tips?

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4 Responses to “Top tips for more effective advocacy”
  1. Would like to add #11

    Building a case from the issues affecting people on the ground. Very often, campaigns are de-linked to local realities. While looking at global gains, campaigners are often wont to ignoring local risks. Rarely a good idea.

  2. Martin

    Great blog, Duncan. Particularly like the final suggestion – “talent borrows but genius steals” as Morrissey once sang! Two great organisations to learn from are the RSA – their animations are fantastic: – and Brookings – their ipad app is visually appealing, easy to use and free.

    Probably some stuff around social media too – whether it’s blogging as a more nimble way to influence the debate (e.g. a blog to accompany every report launch on both Oxfam blogs and non-Oxfam blogs) or twitter for the trench warfare (and for more specific targeting.)

    • Duncan

      Thanks Martin and Makarand, and judging by the relative paucity of comments, should probably add ‘don’t post things about advocacy during the middle of the World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings’……..

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