I recently helped to run an advocacy workshop on migration in Dakar, Senegal. It was a great event with representatives from African, European and Middle Eastern countries.
Unlike many events that I’ve been involved in running advocacy training this event seemed really special because the vast majority had little or no prior experience of advocacy. So therefore the initial focus was a lot about de-mystifying the concept of advocacy.
This involved trying simply to define advocacy in terms of problem, solution, target and then seeking to influence that target. We then introduced some basic advocacy tools such as the influence tree and the theory of change, and then we supported delegates to begin to develop their own country specific advocacy strategy.
I was really struck by a woman from one North African country, who said to me that all of these ideas had been in her head and that she had wanted to do things in the past, but a framework approach to advocacy had helped structure her thinking to move things forward.
As these advocacy strategies began to develop, a colleague came up to me concerned about the development of one particular country specific advocacy strategy. This country’s representatives were focusing on the need to develop a migrant reception centre, and my colleague was concerned that this was not an appropriate response to the advocacy question.
I was interested nonetheless that this was their initial humanitarian concern and their preferred response to this particular crisis. I suggested that this was an appropriate response, but having developed a reception centre and having begun to provide support in the reception centre that such an operational service could then provide the essential ingredients and evidence for advocacy on this issue.
So that a theory of change could initially include their aspirations to get support for a reception centre and then to begin to run a reception centre, but I would then like to think that the theory of change would include the opportunities for advocacy based on the operational experience of running that reception centre.
I am continually interested at the overlap and interplay between delivering direct operational services and the need for advocacy. I often talk about them being two sides of the same coin. This is hardly a unique insight, but it is really important to see them as being and having a very close relationship. At the Red Cross we talk about our preferred instinct to respond to an operational crisis is to get directly involved and to deliver direct humanitarian support; however when those services alone are not enough to deal with the problem that is when we will advocate and push for policy and practice change.
I was really interested to see at such an advocacy workshop on migration how many people’s understandable first preference was to deliver direct services to help people in crisis; however the challenge has to be that very often direct services are not enough to deal with the problem, certainly when they are as big as the current global migration issue, and that is why advocacy campaigning is so, so important.