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Getting heard

Effective advocacy requires a plan, workshop teaches

October 30, 2009

Cincinnati

Advocacy works best when it’s organized, and participants in the Oct. 23 workshop “Advocacy That Gets Heard,” learned what steps to follow when organizing for a cause.

The workshop was part of the World Mission Celebration, which took place here Oct. 22-24.

The first step in effective advocacy is to identify an issue, said Alexa Smith, associate for Joining Hands Against Hunger, part of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. She asked participants to name a cause about which they were passionate. Congo, Colombia and women’s and children’s issues were some thrown out. The problem with those causes is that they’re too broad, Smith said. It’s better to focus in on a specific aspect of a problem.

“Identify what is the thing you can move,” she said. “You can’t tackle every issue with women and children, so what about women and children (do you want to change)?”

After singling out an issue, the next step in advocacy is to collect reliable data. Advocates need to show that they know what they’re talking about.

Once that data is assembled, the next step involves education.

Presbyterians are great at spreading information, but they must remember that advocacy does not stop there, Smith said. For action to take place, work needs to be broken down into steps.

By adopting clear, specific goals, work can be broken down and better managed. Adopt short-term, intermediate and long-term goals, Smith said.

The next steps are to choose a test case and identify a target. The target is the person or group that can make the desired change. If you can’t go after the target itself, go after those who can influence the target. For example, with a big corporation, get in touch with the shareholders.
Once a target has been identified, it’s important to develop a strategy.

“You have to decide what kind of pressure you want to apply,” Smith said, adding that it’s usually best to start with low levels of pressure.

After developing tactics, sharpen your message. It needs to be simple and clear. This will help with the next steps of building coalitions and alliances and engaging media. With social media on the rise, outlets like Twitter and YouTube can be effective ways to get the message out.

The final step in advocacy is to mobilize for action.

In Presbyterian and other Christian circles, rousing support and passion can be easier than with other areas of society, said Chris Iosso, coordinator for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.

“Part of the challenge is to build empathy for ‘the other,’” he said.

Many people in the world might not be aware of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or what its stance on particular issues is, Iosso said. Although the PC(USA) doesn’t have a widely recognized leader like the pope, it does have a great strength in having people on the ground in mission.

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