What is Advocacy?

04.06.2022 | Kim Eric Bettcher, Adam Goldstein

In this two-part blog feature for the CIPE Civic Engagement Hub – an incubator, resource hub, and co-working space for leading civic-minded organizations in Ethiopia – CIPE’s Policy and Program Learning Unit takes readers through the basics of advocacy by outlining what it is and how to do it. Geared towards those with less direct advocacy experience, these blog posts will still be valuable to anyone working on advocacy projects, whether you are an informal group getting started with an idea or a formal civil society organization with years of experience. 

Advocacy – the process of turning ideas into action – is a crucial part of the value civil society organizations (CSOs) bring to their communities. Advocacy constitutes the actions a CSO takes on behalf of its stakeholders to influence and support public policy decisions, such as laws, rules, or regulations to support a given position. When a CSO engages in advocacy, its goal is to alter policies or aspects of a system, procedure, or institution, to raise awareness of certain issues, to provide solutions to existing problems, and/or to build coalitional support. Simply put, advocacy is about raising awareness to achieve a goal 

Inputs and Outcomes 

In theory, we can think about advocacy along two lines: inputs and outcomes. Within the framework of advocacy, an input (sometimes called an “investment”) can be understood as the work and resources expended to carry out an activity. In its most simple form, an outcome represents the results of those inputs. While successful inputs tend to lead to successful outcomes, there is often synergy between the two. For example, while improving organizational capacity may attract more stakeholders, attracting more stakeholders may improve capacity as well. In practice, inputs and outcomes are mutual engagements, so it is helpful to think about advocacy work with both inputs and outcomes in mind.  

Below, we highlight a few examples of advocacy inputs and advocacy outcomes:  

  • Improved organizational capacity – better communication, more responsive services and activities (Input) 
  • Stronger coalitions – increased number of partners, new strategic alliances, better alignment of coalitional goals (Input) 
  • Shifting social norms – improved awareness of social issues, changes in beliefs and attitudes, changes in public behavior (Outcome) 
  • Improved policies – policy approval, implementation, and enforcement (Outcome) 
  • A wider and stronger base of support – more public involvement in an issue, changes in societal behavior, more media coverage, preferred framing of an issue, more visibility and awareness (Outcome) 

Advocacy vs. Lobbying 

Advocacy is not lobbying, though it is often confused with lobbying. To cite the CIPE Youth Guidebook, the core difference between lobbying and advocacy is the general scope of the interest served. Advocacy “draws its strength from being a group effort” that is conducted publicly and transparently 

Alternatively, lobbying is an activity designed to influence specific public officials on narrow issues for a narrow set of beneficiaries. Lobbying may also have a negative connotation associated with backroom dealing. Meanwhile, advocacy focuses on issues impacting a wide range of people and is deliberately framed to be citizen-led and for the citizens themselves, rather than for the sole benefit of a specific interest group.  

Advocacy in Practice 

The National Economic Research Center (CIEN) of Guatemala is an example of effective advocacy at work. CIEN built a coalition with five youth organizations to collectively advocate for sustainable economic and social policies. The coalition worked together to identify the most important issues facing their stakeholders (education, malnutrition, economy, and infrastructure) and put together a series of policy recommendations. To communicate these recommendations, the coalition identified and then organized meetings with political parties to communicate a pro-youth agenda and articulate policy recommendations.  

Note that CIEN’s work began with coalition building and culminated in an organized and intentionally framed outreach and communications campaign, reaching a wide and varied audience, rather than being for and by a narrow group of stakeholders. While advocacy can still concentrate on a narrower set of key decision-makers, so long as it benefits a wider population, these activities remain advocacy.  

Advocacy is a core component of CSO activity, but to do it well, it must be done collectively and inclusively. In an upcoming blog post, CIPE will introduce some of the core areas of advocacy and outline how CSOs can effectively carry out advocacy activities of their own. 

CIPE works around the world to support CSOs at every stage of the advocacy process. In Ethiopia, CIPE’s Civic Engagement Hub – an incubator, resource hub, and co-working space for leading civic-minded organizations in Ethiopia – supports groups and individuals that are pioneering new approaches to community, regional, and national civic participation. 

Through the Civic Engagement Hub, CIPE hosts regular speaker sessions and training events on key topics like advocacy and entrepreneurship, as well as provides opportunities for targeted one-on-one technical assistance with CIPE’s network of experts. If you are a CSO or social enterprise in Ethiopia interested in learning more about the Civic Engagement Hub or becoming a member, please contact us here.