What Is

Advocacy (ăd′və-kə-sē) noun - the act of communicating in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support.

“Advocacy” is a term often used and often misunderstood. Advocacy seeks to shape laws, policies, and systems. That includes seeking change and defending the status quo. Keep in mind that even well-intentioned laws, policies, and systems may fail to create a just, equitable, and peaceful world if they are not well-informed. 

A letter to your city council supporting the removal of a statue or preservation of a park…

Petitioning an agency to change its policy and consider all potential donors wanting to give blood and save lives… 

Creating a documentary film that sparks shareholder action and changes corporate policy...

Calling on a school districts to launch paid apprenticeship programs so people wanting to become teachers can afford to do so….

Telling the member of Congress who represents you to cosponsor a bill to lower the cost of prescription medications…

These are just a few examples of advocacy.

Like individuals, organizations can shape laws, policies, and systems, whether through a formal set of ongoing advocacy priorities or when the need to weigh in arises.

Effective advocacy can be summed up in three parts:

  1. A clear goal (i.e., the law, policy, or system you want to influence);
  2. A clear understanding of the person or people who have the power to shape that law, policy, or system; and 
  3. A clear message that reaches that person or people and moves them to take action.

With knowledge of the first two parts, advocacy communications encompasses everything involved in the third.

Advocacy communications is a specialty within the emerging field of public interest communications. As defined by The Center for Public Interest Communications at the University of Florida, the preeminent leader in the field, public interest communications “uses strategic communications grounded in research and science to achieve sustained and positive social change. [Public interest communications] borrows from its sister fields of public relations, advertising, journalism and marketing and is informed by sociology, psychology, neuroscience and political science [to address countless issues that] transcend the interests of any single organization. The idea is to create lasting change by going beyond just raising awareness to motivating people to effect positive societal change.”

Advocacy communications combines all of this with a focus on law, policy, and systems, as well as the people with the power to defend or change them. Addressing challenges whose solutions are linked to law, policy, and systems often means entering the critical and complicated realms of democracy and politics, determining who listens to whom while valuing the voices of all stakeholders, and collaborating with a larger group, including in formal coalitions.


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