- Skills and Strategies for Effective and Peer Advocacy
- 100 BEST CAMPAIGN TOOLS
- Advocacy Tools for Action
- Systems Advocacy
Advocacy is the active representation of interests. You can advocate on behalf of another, on behalf of yourself, on behalf of a network, or an entire community. You can work as an individual, in a group, professionally, or as part of a larger movement.
Advocacy is a framework for change, and since change admits of no boundaries, neither does advocacy. Advocacy is not an end in itself, no matter how necessary or relentless it might seem.
You must embrace a personally and genuinely valued purpose to truly advocate. Otherwise, advocacy becomes just another kind of inauthentic political gaming.
I chose advocacy as the metaphor for changing complex adaptive systems, because most people have some understanding of the concept and because using that concept makes it easier to remember that changing a complex adaptive system (CAS) is for a valued purpose, not simply a logic model for obtaining a grant.
While advocacy can be used by anyone, it is a creature of great diversity. The most basic frame for advocacy is to threaten a target with more change than the target would experience if it accepted your claim for change. Most basic advocacy negotiation entails this kind of trade-off for the target.
The target of advocacy can be almost any system from an individual to large bureaucracies, local governments, global coalitions. The target you choose is the one you believe can make the community interests you value real.
The trade-offs that frame any advocacy negotiation can also, and usually are, extremely varied and complex, and revolve more around constraints that might be destabilized than, say, for example, the simple cost of the advocacy demand. The cost can always be “managed” but forced change in the basic operating framework of the target is typically viewed by target systems as an existential crisis of some importance, and something to be strongly resisted.
If I tell you that the negotiations in a special education disagreement are mostly around the dimensions of expense and precedent for the school district if they agree to your demands, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t also highly personalized dimensions in every education advocacy process, for example.
These personal issues in what seems to be a procedural or legal negotiation are important to advocates because of how the personal impacts the value of the advocacy outcome. For the target system, there is no more powerful constraint that must be managed than the relationship the system has with individuals to whom it provides services. Systems don’t like customizing anything for anyone who is entitled to disturb their peace. If you can sustainably change the obligations that any system has to the uniqueness of those it serves, you are creating an entirely different system, and deeply altering the purpose and behavior of that system.
In effect, learning to use, create, exploit, and leverage constraints is the heart of advocacy toward any target system.
While achieving a valued advocacy result requires the use of tools, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the tool is somehow sacred because it helps you to achieve the result you want. There is no holy path to advocacy success. There is only the uncertain struggle to make complex adaptive systems change.