I recently returned from Germany where I led an advocacy capacity building session for an NGO, and as I have often remarked in the past in a room full of different nationalities, there really is a common international language of advocacy campaigns.
I was also struck at how the big challenges in this work are also common. For me in my day job at the Refugee Council I am forever boring my colleagues about the importance of momentum in successful campaigning. Getting a sense of momentum and progress with a campaign is just so important but also so hard sometimes to achieve.
During the session in Germany, we talked about the huge internal effort that can sometimes go into producing a report, developing key messages and then maybe holding a press conference. Once that has been achieved and a few press headlines garnered, it is tempting just to collapse with all of the energy used up.
But this is just the start of something in advocacy terms – how is the report, messages and press coverage going to be used to energise the broader campaign for the impact you are seeking?
I have been heavily influenced, as I have written before, about the importance of a theory of change in advocacy campaigning. Now this sounds really complex but it can be as simple as developing a road map for how you want to see your issue take off. And you can be helped by those two little words ‘so’ and ‘that’.
So I found towards the end of the session that people were talking about an advocacy activity like a press release or a lobbying meeting, then pausing before linking up the sentence with a ‘so that’ and going on to list future advocacy activities.
I know it all sounds so simple. So simple that I know myself from my own practice that we don’t always get around to doing so.
At the Refugee Council we have identified our four key advocacy priorities for action (and in case you’re interested they are: destitution, detention, housing and legal support to asylum seekers.) And we are now beginning to develop our theories of change for each issue, fuelled by some research and beginning to map out how we want these issues to take off.
So next time you find yourself talking about an advocacy activity don’t just stop there – pause, say ‘so that’ and then continue with your aspirations. I am convinced that one enemy of effective advocacy campaigning is a lack of momentum – but a persistent use of ‘so that’ can be a very powerful remedy. What do you think?