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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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"Too often, we invest in organization and not in networks. Networks are the cross organizational connective tissue. Networks are the collections of people bound together and enabled by common stories, dense communications support, shared tools, strong social ties and an evolving clarity of purpose."
— Marty Kearns, Green Media Toolshed

EXAMPLES

The Peace and Security Initiative recently created a map of advocacy priorities for its members. While the Peace and Security Initiative is not an advocacy group per se, this mapping exercise is a good example of how organizations can learn which other groups have which priorities as they try to understand the "policy advocacy landscape" in which their own activities will take place.

Issue Landscape: Mapping the Field

Build your capacity to map the landscape
Most advocacy communities can be drawn broadly to include scores of organizations working on different, related issues. This complexity can often make it difficult for organizations to single out an advocacy goal that can be achieved within a reasonable timeframe while contributing towards a larger change in U.S. policy. Equally important is articulating how your advocacy goal fits in the landscape of the current policy debate, and more broadly in the public discourse. Mapping the landscape is an important process because it will help you identify potential allies and opponents, and it will help you build the analytical competencies to connect your advocacy goal with other ongoing efforts that may complement your own.

Advocates on nearly every issue area could benefit from a thoughtful field-mapping effort. This capacity-related undertaking not only opens your eyes to the other organizations working on your issue, but it can also bring to light useful tools to get your work done, new funding initiatives and opportunities, and quality research on your issue. Having a thorough understanding of the policy landscape in your issue area and its players will also help you identify major policy benchmarks.

Policy communities: Where do you fit in?
Efforts to shape the domestic policy agenda range from cancer research and stop-smoking advocacy to "start-saving" programs for baby boomers and education initiatives for the urban poor. The U.S. public and specifically your constituency is hearing many of these often competing messages. Some people in your target audience may be struggling to make sense of all of them and trying to determine which issue will be their priority for time and resources.

How do you run an effective campaign against this complex backdrop? We suggest focusing on your advocacy goal, while constantly monitoring the policy debate. The more you know about the field in which you operate, the more effective you can be in framing your advocacy “ask.” Look at opportunities in the landscape. What organizations are perceived as leaders on your issues? Are there places where their leadership could be complemented by your unique knowledge? Which members of Congress have expressed support or opposition to your issue or to related topics? How is the media covering your issue?

Also, keep in mind that educating your constituency about your policy topic involves answering questions about how your issue relates to policy debates that are front and center: “How would better education or environmental policies affect U.S. national security or the ability of U.S. businesses to compete globally?” “Is fighting AIDS connected to protecting the environment?” “Why ask for more disaster relief funding if the money is spent unaccountably?” These are important questions and your constituents deserve answers.

Is it bad or good to simplify your advocacy issue?
Often advocates feel the need to simplify their messages to present them to policy makers, stakeholders and to the public. Yes, ”simple and concise” is a sound messaging approach for your public education efforts, and many will recommend writing short, (one-to-two-page) briefs for policy makers. But to be simple and effective in your messaging you may need a comprehensive external assessment of the frames through which your policy issue is being perceived, and the frames through which related policy issues are being discussed. This assessment can be created as an extension of your policy-landscape mapping exercise. Mapping the frames employed by your colleagues and opponents, the media and policy makers can point the way to workable framing guidance for your own activities. 

Navigating a changing landscape
Policy makers operate in a constantly moving environment and you need to adjust your efforts accordingly. For example, shortly after the 9-11 attacks, as America was reeling with questions about its place in the world, the anthrax scare on Capitol Hill shifted the focus of the debate from military measures abroad to homeland security measures. Both were critical, but for a time those domestic issues rose to the top of the agenda. Were public health advocacy organizations prepared to contribute to a new debate about health infrastructure? Were they able to assess and adjust their advocacy goals and messages accordingly? Sweeping adjustments in the landscape It is critical to build your organizational competencies to monitor these changes and react to them. You need, in short, vigilance and agility.

TIPS

  • Read social issues blogs and other resources to stay up-to-date with the policy debate.
  • Investigate joining the coalitions that are important to your advocacy goals; in addition to strengthening your advocacy efforts, coalitions can offer venues where you can learn and share important information with other organizations.
  • Attend in-person and online events that relate to your work.
  • Sign up for news alerts using key words related to your advocacy issue.