A few months ago I was running an advocacy and policy influencing course in West Africa for a group of doctors who wanted to run a national campaign on maternal health in order to tackle the horribly high number of women who were dying when giving birth.
The course seemed to be going well until we got onto influence, and I began to explain how to use an influence tree. I started off by focussing on their target of their advocacy campaign and then began to talk through possible routes of influence to get to this target. I used an example from another advocacy campaign to get them thinking about how the influence tree might be applied in their cultural context.
Then one of the group interrupted me and asked me – what about GFs? I was stumped. I have run similar courses around the world and no-one had ever asked me about GFs. My mind raced – what could GF stand for in an advocacy sense? I didn’t have a clue.
The group then laughed realising that I didn’t understand the question. Don’t you know what GFs stand for? I had to admit that I didn’t. They then took great delight in telling me that GFs stood for girl friends.
This answer this opened up a new area of discussion around informal routes of influence. In this country the identities of girl friends of leading politicians were public knowledge, so if you were planning an advocacy campaign on maternal health and were targeting a politician who had a girlfriend, then she could be a potential route of influence. This point then got the group thinking much more broadly about other sources of informal influence on their target. Their influence tree suddenly expanded dramatically with a whole array of other routes of more informal influence.
It made me reflect that sometimes we focus only on the formal and established routes of influence in developing advocacy campaigns, when very often those in power are also influenced by informal sources. In the context of your campaigning work are there any informal routes of influence that you might be missing?