How Do We Advocate?

04.20.2022 | 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. 

While our first blog post – What is Advocacy? – describes what advocacy is, this piece outlines some of the core activities a Civil Society Organization (CSO) can do to effectively carry out advocacy. Contexts across geography, degrees of available civic space, and organizational systems impact the extent to which an organization can be effective in these areas. Advocacy can happen through many different means, which advocates can and should combine to maximize impact.  

CIPE highlights four core areas of advocacy work CSOs can pursue:  

Grassroots Advocacy: Grassroots advocacy involves a stakeholder-oriented approach, including motivating and energizing a community of stakeholders, demonstrating the group’s commitment to the issue, demonstrating leadership to stakeholders, conducting communications campaigns, holding consultations with the stakeholder community, and organizational leaders demonstrating solidarity through participating in public activities. The goal of grassroots advocacy is to generate and communicate popular support for the CSO’s mission.  

Coalition Building: Coalitions form around either short-term issues or long-term objectives shared among different stakeholders. When forming a coalition, CSOs should create a task force with clearly identified members, roles, and responsibilities. Within this task force, the coalition should construct a series of working groups. These working groups can advance issued-based advocacy as well as improve an organization’s processes and procedures. Coalitions should also establish agreed upon communications strategies with relevant stakeholders, levels of authority in the public-sector, press, and other civil society groups. The goal of a coalition is to build awareness, carry out an action plan, and exemplify leadership, vision, and strategy.  

Policy Advocacy: Policy advocacy includes supporting an idea, action, or person and working to convince a wide range of stakeholders of its importance. Work in this space can include identifying legislative priorities, coalitional work to select and negotiate priorities and raise grassroots awareness, suggesting public policy solutions to identified problems, drafting issue papers, creating a legislative agenda, and liaising with the press to make positions known. In other words, it is a “group effort focused on changing particular public policies.” 

Advocacy Campaigns: Advocacy campaigns integrate all components of the above forms of advocacy into specific activities. These activities can include conducting events, creating media campaigns, relationship building with the public-sector, and participating in each step of the policy process. Advocacy campaigns create influence – the extent to which these activities “matter” and stand to have impact is the extent to which they create influence. What makes an advocacy campaign more comprehensive than the above forms of advocacy is the addition of a “wrap-up” section, where the CSO analyzes the process, identifies success and failures, and captures lessons learned.  

As this CIPE publication suggests, organizations may not win every advocacy campaign, but even if success is not guaranteed, communicating messages to stakeholders expands influence and provides its own value. 

While advocacy may seem overwhelming at first, it is useful to remember a few simple first steps. To get started, a new CSO should first identify the most important but actionable issues, and then come to an agreement around how to approach them. Consider how your CSO may best organize around these issues, and then form action plans around your priorities. For new organizations, it is best to focus on what is workable, and build from there.  

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.