What makes it possible to do joined-up programmes and advocacy? And what prevents it?

Here’s a second instalment on ‘influencing’, following yesterday’s piece from Erinch Sahan

Down with siloes
Down with siloes


There’s a lot of talk in the aid biz about ‘getting out of our siloes’ – the traditional division of labour between ‘long term development’, ‘humanitarian’ and ‘advocacy’. I’ve seen this most starkly in some classic campaigns like Make Poverty History or Make Trade Fair, which seemed to have very little connection to Oxfam’s work on the ground.

We want to change that by adopting a ‘one programme approach’ that abolishes the distinction between running projects and trying to change the broader system. One surprisingly effective way to overcome such divisions is to introduce a new word that doesn’t belong to any one camp – in our case it is ‘influencing’, which is now all over Oxfam’s organigrams and strategy documents like a rash. So I’ve been looking for examples where such joined-up influencing is actually happening, and come up with a bit of a typology of the situations in which it seems most likely to appear – feel free to pull it to pieces.

The Credibility of Boots on the Ground: It’s a lot easier to get the attention of senior officials or ministers if you have ‘skin in the game’ in the shape of programmes on the ground. In the Water and Sanitation programme in Tajikistan, our existing work on WASH gave us the credibility to ‘convene and broker’ a range of government departments, donors, private sector organizations and CSOs and come up with some really important institutional and legal innovations.

WASH LiberiaIt can work the other way too – campaigns can open doors for programmes: In Vietnam I once, literally, got red carpet treatment from the government because they liked our report on the accession terms being demanded for its entry to the WTO. Our advocacy on global burden-sharing around the Syrian refugee crisis has led to high level access to the Jordanian royal family and opened up some space for our programmes.

Pilots and demonstration effects: Proving that what you are advocating for actually works on the ground can be a powerful way of convincing policy makers to take a look. In Vietnam, we involved the local government in a programme to introduce child-centred methodologies in areas where ethnic minority girls were dropping out of school. The results were so spectacular (and Vietnamese officials so open to evidence-based policy making) that we ended up helping to revise the national teacher training materials.

The link between programme and advocacy seems to be particularly obvious in humanitarian work. In Liberia 5 INGOs with major Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes helped set up an advocacy coalition with local NGOs to influence the country’s transition from emergency relief to long term development work. They used a combination of research, public campaigning and multi-stakeholder dialogues to drive WASH up the public agenda ahead of the 2011 presidential election – political parties revised their manifestos to sign up to the campaign, and President Sirleaf publicly committed her government to making WASH a top priority.

Capacity Building: In the DRC, we have worked with partners to set up and support ‘citizen protection committees’ to engage in advocacy with the local state and other armed actors.

As Erinch Sahan discussed yesterday, we’re also promoting a one programme approach in our livelihoods work. Supporting and strengthening producer organizations is often the first step to them advocating for better deals from government or the companies that buy their stuff (or supply them with inputs). In Sri Lanka, our local partners worked with 1,300 women in the coir (coconut fibre) industry to develop entrepreneurship skills, and then worked with them to influence private sector buyers, banks and the government to revitalize the coir industry and support small-scale women producers. The women’s incomes tripled.

Critical Junctures: Sometimes, you don’t know how all that long-term capacity building work is going to pay off until something happens. In Pakistan, when the government passed a new law on the Right to Education in 2010, years of investment in education, women’s leadership groups and other bodies created the footsoldiers for an impressive campaign on its implementation.

New threats: policy makers are particularly open to (even desperate for) answers when something new comes along. Take Ebola. The programming we have done around community engagement and active contact tracing influenced (albeit belatedly) the government of Liberia’s and international agencies’ approach to tackling the epidemic – an exclusive focus on medical treatment won’t work and it is critical to build trust with communities to change risky behaviour patterns and pro-actively find people who may have or be at risk of contracting the virus.

Or Climate Change. Words like ‘resilience’ span the siloes just as ‘influencing’ does. In Armenia some programming around resilienceclimate change adaptation for women involved in fruit production (adapting to out of season frosts, hailstorms and more erratic rainfall) opened up the political space for Oxfam and its partners to advocate for rethinking national rural policy. The resulting economic and resilience policy could almost have been written by Oxfam.

There are plenty of other examples under all the usual NGO themes (livelihoods, humanitarian, essential services), but this gives you the general idea. But they are the good examples, the positive deviants – what’s stopping the rest of us from following suit? Conversations with a range of Oxfam colleagues point to some of the obstacles:

Organizational structures: people are still organized into and identify with their tribe within Oxfam – by function (humanitarian response, long term development, research, advocacy, MEL etc) or theme (health, education, WASH). Often the divisions are greater in HQ than in the field (where people have to multi-task more). The sub-tribes tend to have different aims, values and cultures (to caricature, advocates want to see changes in law, policy or spending decisions, while programme people want to see changes in people’s lives; humanitarian and livelihoods people like to do it themselves and see tangible, attributable results, whereas governance, essential services and campaigns are protesters wanting to shake up the whole system).

Financing: as long as funding for the 3 siloes is separate, it will be harder to join up

MEL: we need monitoring, evaluation and learning to include influencing as part of its design – what’s the best combination of process, brevity, accessibility and rigour for persuading decision makers?

Don’t we do this already? The examples here show that we sometimes are, but I would argue that many of them are in spite of Oxfam/the aid business, not because (often down to inspired project leaders, for example). How do we shift to actively encouraging this approach?

Subscribe to our Newsletter

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please see our Privacy Policy.

We use MailChimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to MailChimp for processing. Learn more about MailChimp's privacy practices here.


4 Responses to “What makes it possible to do joined-up programmes and advocacy? And what prevents it?”
  1. Nahashon Aluoka

    Great to read this piece. The main question I am yet to get an answer to is how do we bridge the expertise of the advocates(campaigners) and of the program teams? Are their some instances of people with long programming (service delivery) backgrounds becoming successful advocates on an issue?

  2. Rhonda Schlangen

    Thanks so much for raising this issue! The reproductive health/rights sector may have a lot to offer this conversation, as groups like the International Planned Parenthood Federation and its member associations have quite an integrated approach to linking up advocacy with their service delivery. I humbly offer this related link, to a paper focused on monitoring and evaluation strategies for such local service providers. http://www.evaluationinnovation.org/publications/shaking-tree-evaluating-programs-combine-services-and-advocacy

  3. Duncan Green

    This from our International Director Olga Ghazaryan on a recent visit to East Africa:
    ‘ I saw a really inspiring cash transfer programme – i would call it “ influencing and leverage in action” . The programme was designed and trialled by Oxfam as Hunger Safety Net programme in 2009 following recurring droughts in the northern counties of Kenya – a participatory wealth ranking of all the HHs in Turkana, the choice of the most vulnerable 40 000 HHs ( around 250 000 people) and bimonthly payments of 40 USD of cash through the Equity bank. The bank employs individual agents with mobile card machines that can reach the people anywhere , the vulnerable individuals get their cash through bank cards – a safe, efficient and dignified way of social protection that provides a lifeline to desperately poor people. What is great about this programme is that Oxfam has fulfilled its role and handed it over to NDMA – a government institution that coordinates the donor and government cofounding of the scheme . It is 40% funded by the government and 60% by the donors ( eg DFID) . 4 ex Oxfam staff that initiated the programme are now working for the government. The scheme works in 3 counties and has the potential to become a national level social protection system. Oxfam’s role is to develop the national social protection policy. I was struck by how many ex -fams work in Turkana local and country government ( many technical senor people including the deputy governor ) – this is also a great way of capacity building and influencing the duty bearers.’

  4. Jon

    Is it perhaps true that the One Programme Approach is an OGB and then OI idea? Rather than a logic that is prevalent in everyday life in country programmes and staff across the affiliates.

    Could this change with a more One Programme Approach at an OI level. How about an Annual OI One Programme Convention?

    Along the lines of the current OI Humanitarian Conventions but with all three silos. This forum could feed down how they want the silos to work together, a little like the humanitarians have done internally with the Humanitarian Dossier and the Emergency Manager Network and sub-groups.

    This would involve & guide the affiliate Programme Directors, on to Country Programme Managers and then to programme, humanitarian & advocacy staff who are working with communities on the ground.

    Thanks for the interesting article.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.