9. Developing an advocacy strategy and taking action.

When the decision has been taken to engage in advocacy, a clear advocacy strategy must be developed.

During a rapid-onset emergency, the speed of unfolding events may require the response team to develop a less intensive (or ‘light’) advocacy strategy based on ‘good enough’ research and analysis that is focused on immediate priorities such as humanitarian access.

In a slow-onset crisis or protracted ‘complex emergency’, time may allow for, and even require, a longer-term, fully developed advocacy strategy.

A CO will be a more effective advocate if it has incorporated policy analysis and advocacy into its emergency preparedness planning process (see guidelines in the Chapter on Emergency preparedness planning).

Based on an assessment of available evidence and realities on the ground, the basic questions that must be answered when developing an advocacy strategy are:

  • What is/are the key humanitarian problem(s)?
  • What are the goals and objectives for advocacy to resolve the problem(s)?
  • What are the target audiences at the local, national and international levels that have the power to resolve the problem(s)?
  • Who are the main allies and opponents of CARE and partners’ recommendations?
  • What are the key messages for concrete action by the target audiences, as well as the tools and actions / tactics  for delivering these messages?

The following format is a useful guide to develop and document the advocacy strategy. It is adapted from Annex 11.5 Template for planning an advocacy strategy (Oxfam International).

CARE’s advocacy strategy for any issue must be based on a sound analysis of the problem in the context of the prevailing crisis and policy environment and must be developed in coordination with partners, especially women-led and affected people-led organizations. Analysis of the policy environment is a critical step in understanding the causes and effects of various issues and formulating effective advocacy strategies.

9.3.1 Information gathering

Developing a reliable base of information and evidence is crucial to advocacy. Time constraints and multiple demands on programme managers may limit the capacity for information gathering and analysis, especially in the early days of a response. Gathering policy-related information through pre-emergency programming activities and surveys and through engagement with partners can be a useful starting point, and can be supplemented with rapid assessment data (see guidelines in the Chapter on Assessment), including Rapid Gender Analysis

Relevant information for problem analysis may be gathered from crisis affected people, aid recipients, local partners, external experts, government sources, other NGOs, the UN, academia, private sector actors and the media. In all cases, CARE must always ensure not to expose aid recipients or CARE and partners’ staff to security risks in the process.

It is critical to assess and verify all information for accuracy and bias and to rely on sources that are the most trustworthy, legitimate and verifiable – including how these sources are perceived by the policymakers and power holders we are trying to influence. Using a diverse set of sources helps to triangulate and provide a balanced picture. Because marginalised or vulnerable groups experience policy impacts in distinct and often harsher ways, the collection and analysis of information and evidence must identify and take into account the specific needs of women, ethnic and religious minorities, children and others (see the Chapter on Gender). Data collected and used should be sex-, age-, and diversity-disaggregated whenever possible.

9.3.2 Problem analysis checklist


  • What are causes of the problem and who is most affected by it? This helps to determine whether advocacy is an appropriate response to the problem. Baseline assessments and surveys, interviews with local actors and diverse crisis affected, and eyewitness accounts are all common approaches to gather humanitarian information, while tools such as problem tree analyses can be useful to analyse information (see Chapter on Assessment, and Annex 11.6 Problem Tree Analysis).
  • Who are the key actors and institutions that make or influence policy decisions on this issue? This involves identifying both the institutions and the actual individuals who directly make and implement policies, as well as those who can (indirectly) influence decision-makers and determine their positions on relevant policies and actions, their degree of influence, their resources, and their (political or economic) interests (see Annex 11.7 Stakeholder Map and Analysis Tool).
  • What is the social and political context, often disrupted after an emergency? This includes identifying the distribution of political power among key actors – including civil society, understanding the formal and informal policymaking processes and determining the extent of public participation in decision-making on the given issue (that is, political or social restrictions on public dialogue). This analysis must also take into account the impact of local and national events such as elections, ongoing conflict (and the role, motivation and influence of non-state armed groups), major policy changes and economic trends (see Annex 11.4 CARE’s Benefit-Harm Analysis Tool, pp. 23-24; and Chapter on Conflict sensitivity).
  • What are the options for policy change? After analysing the problem’s causes, effects, key actors and policy context, it may be possible to develop recommendations for policy solutions or changes necessary to address the problem.
  • What are the changes required for CARE and partners’ advocacy to have a positive outcome or impact?
  • What advocacy products or initiatives are being undertaken by others / allies that CARE and partners could join or contribute to?

Defining the overall goal of the advocacy strategy as well as the specific policy changes that are sought from policymakers helps to keep advocacy activities focused and coherent. The objectives formulated should, as much as possible, be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (SMART), and should indicate:

  • What issue are we addressing and why?
  • Whose opinion do we want to change, and why?
  • How should their opinion or behaviour be changed?

The strategy should clearly establish CARE’s rationale for engagement, based on CARE’s assessment of the criteria outlined in sections 7 and 8.

The primary audience for advocacy is the decision-makers that have the ability and authority to affect our objectives-that is, those decision-makers who can directly improve, create or implement policies. Secondary audiences are people and groups with the greatest ability to influence the primary decision-makers.

A problem analysis process as outlined in section 8.3, a stakeholder analysis or even brainstorming ideas with CO staff can help to identify these two target audiences (see also Annex 11.8 Target Audience Tool).

Advocacy is generally most successful when carried out in partnership with other groups or influential individuals that are concerned with the same policy goal. CARE particularly prioritizes collaboration with crisis affected people-led, refugee/IDP-led, and women-led partners. Benefits of advocating through alliances and coalitions include:

  • increased resources, experience, credibility and visibility,
  • enhanced local advocacy capacity by working in coalition with local groups,
  • a degree of protection or ‘safety in numbers’ (more protection with larger numbers of individuals).

Allies may be identified at the policy analysis stage, or they may be local and international actors – including governments – with whom the CO or partners have worked previously. NGO and UN coordination groups and forums often exist in emergency situations and can be the ideal place to seek allies, form coalitions, or contribute to ongoing advocacy initiatives. The considerations in section 8 can help the CO and partners to determine whether it should play a leading or supporting role in the coalition or partnership.

When establishing coalitions, it is crucial to:

  • be clear about the issue for which people are coming together to advocate,
  • identify specifically what the coalition will and will not aim to do,
  • be clear about the roles and responsibilities of all the organisations, and what participation other partners expect from CARE,
  • select a small steering committee to plan and coordinate different activities if the group is large, ensuring that affected people and women are among the decision makers,
  • develop a brief ‘code of conduct’ to ensure mutual commitments and respect, as well as protocols for interaction (e.g., with the media, with the HCT, etc.) as a coalition,
  • assess progress periodically and make changes if needed, in collaboration with partners.

The Feminist Humanitarian Network (FHN) is another forum with opportunities for coordination. At the local level, where FHN has members, COs could effectively partner with other FHN members. At the international level, the FHN is a strong ally on localization, GEEWGiHA, and other areas closely relevant to CARE’s advocacy priorities.

It is also important to identify who may oppose the policy goal. These opponents should either become targets for advocacy themselves, if possible, or consider other ways to reduce or neutralise their influence (see Annex 11.9 Allies and Opponents Tool).

9.7.1 Collaboration on humanitarian advocacy

Collaboration allows for flexibility of roles. One organisation may choose publicly to report and denounce violations, while another may pass on information confidentially. Some may choose to engage in active advocacy while others work ‘behind the scenes’ to protect and promote rights, often by maintaining a presence with people at risk. Collaboration should, above all, reflect CARE’s commitment to localization, participation, leadership, and accountability to affected people, especially women and girls. (See CARE’s Humanitarian Advocacy Strategy.)

Source: Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) 2002. Growing the sheltering tree: Protecting rights through humanitarian action.

Advocacy messages tell the audience what he or she is being asked to do, why it is worth doing and what positive impact it will have on the issue. The languages used in key messages and communications must always be appropriate and understandable to the audience. Clarity and specificity are important, and generalisations should be avoided. They should be specific to each individual crisis and country-specific context. Advocacy messages should be tailored to each audience based on their knowledge level and the potential for them to take the recommended action.

When direct policymakers or implementers are the target audience, advocacy messages should contain precise, practical recommendations, presented as options to solve the humanitarian problem in question.

For wider audiences with little or no familiarity or relevant expertise, the advocacy is more indirect – that is, containing the same recommendations but also urging the audience to convey these to the policymakers who ultimately have the power to take action and solve the problem.

An example of an advocacy messages document can be given upon request. Please contact the CARE International Humanitarian Policy & Advocacy Coordinator and UN Representative.

CARE’s advocacy strategy should outline the tools, actions and spaces (e.g. HCT, IASC Principals forum, UNSC, etc.) that CARE and partners will use to achieve their advocacy goals. The tools and actions used will depend on the type of advocacy approach CARE will take (see Section 3).

CARE can select from a range of often mutually supportive tools and actions to conduct our advocacy. These include:

  • releasing position statements through the media,
  • writing letters to policymakers, thus articulating key messages,
  • negotiating with policymakers in formal and informal meetings,
  • working with coalitions and national and local partners, especially women-led organisations,
  • sharing information with CARE International Members for external advocacy,
  • sharing information with UN country teams, IASC structures at the global level, or other authoritative bodies,
  • organising public briefing events or forums and inviting policymakers to attend,
  • appointing spokespersons who are knowledgeable on the issues and are credible with the target audience. In a CO, this person may be a representative of a local partner or affected people-led organization. If no partner can be identified, the Country Director, Advocacy Advisor or another member of the response team designated for that purpose can step in, but this is not preferred.

9.9.1 Case Study: CARE Advocacy and the Gender Reference Group

In 2021, the IASC reviewed its strategic priorities, which it does every two years. CARE and others were alarmed to see that the IASC ignored findings from the Inter-Agency Humanitarian Evaluation on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls. Further, the IASC wanted to disassociate the IASC Gender Reference Group (which CARE is a member of) from the IASC structure. CARE, with the support of ICVA and its members, led an action to champion Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls in humanitarian action and succeeded in elevating it as a priority area (IASC Strategic Priorities, 2022-2023), and ensuring the IASC associated Gender Reference Group (GRG) would not be phased out by end 2021 but, instead, be extended as an IASC entity until the end of 2022. The GRG has now formed a small core group, including CARE, to revisit its mandate, composition and approach to more effectively drive accountability on GEEWG in the humanitarian system and to propose ways of working that will hopefully ensure continuity beyond 2023. This advocacy included a targeted joint letter by NGO gender champions to the IASC Principals (main decision makers), coalition building and influencing through speaking to influential individuals in UN agencies.

To take best advantage of opportunities and events to influence, it is important that the advocacy strategy consider timing and key dates to implement activities. Adding a calendar that is regularly revisited helps with planning.

Determine the human and financial resources required to achieve the advocacy strategy. Consider:

  • What resources or capacity exists in the CO and with partners? Capacity or resource constraints may require that the CO adopt a low-key limited advocacy role (for example, working through coalitions or passing information to bodies such as the UN).
  • What expertise and experience does the CO and partners have on the issue – the mix of skills and experience in the CO and partners that is critical to the advocacy role selected? Does the CO or partners have technical staff who can provide expert analysis on the issue, and thereby take a leading role on the issue? Do other experts exist in CI, partners, or other networks who could be seconded or contribute to the effort through the CAWG mechanism?

The advocacy strategy should include specific actions to mitigate and manage any of the risks identified during the risk analysis (see section 8.2).

It is important to develop monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to continually track progress – in terms of both outputs and actual impact, and the effects of advocacy-and then make adjustments to the strategy as necessary. For example, are the objectives of the strategy being achieved, and has the strategy succeeded in bringing about the desired policy change? (See the Advocacy Influencing and Impact Reporting (AIIR) Tool, a resource manual for CARE’s program managers).