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’s recommendations?
  • What are the key messages for concrete action by the target audiences, as well as the tools and strategies for delivering these messages?

The following format is a useful guide to develop and document the advocacy strategy. It is adapted from Annex 28.8 Template for planning an advocacy strategy (Oxfam International).

9.2.1 Standard advocacy strategy format

Title of issue and strategy:
Date finalised:
Expected duration of strategy:
Status update:

  1. Problem(s)
  2. Goal
  3. Specific objectives
  4. Rationale for CARE advocacy
  5. Targets
  6.  Power analysis
  7.  Allies/opponents/working in coalition
  8.   Messages
  9.   Tools/actions
    o        Research
    o        Policy development
    o        Lobbying
    o        Media
    o        Popular mobilisation
    o        Funding of others
  10. Opportunities and events
  11.  Human and financial resources
  12.  Risk management
  13.  Monitoring and evaluation

Source: Adapted from Oxfam GB

CARE’s advocacy strategy for any issue must be based on a sound analysis of the problem in the context of the prevailing policy environment. 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 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 can be a useful starting point, and can be supplemented with rapid assessment data (see guidelines in the Chapter on Assessment).

Relevant information for problem analysis may be gathered from beneficiaries, local partners, external experts, government sources, other NGOs, the UN and the media. In all cases, CARE must always ensure not to expose beneficiaries or staff to security risks in the process.

It is critical to assess and verify all information for accuracy and bias, and rely on sources that are the most trustworthy and legitimate-including how they are perceived by the policymakers we are trying to influence. Using a diverse set of sources helps to provide a balanced picture. Because marginalised or vulnerable groups experience policy impacts in distinct and often harsher ways, the collection and analysis of information must identify and take into account the specific needs of women, ethnic and religious minorities, children and others (see the Chapter on Gender).

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 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 28.9 Problem Tree Analysis).
  • Who are the key actors and institutions that make or influence policy decisions on this issue? This involves identifying 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 28.10 Stakeholder Map and Analysis Tool).
  • What is the social and political context? 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, major policy changes and economic trends (see Annex 28.7 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’s advocacy to have a positive outcome or impact? What is CARE’s access to and ability to influence key officials and other audiences at the local, national and international level that can deliver the desired policy change? This analysis requires assessment of any significant political barriers to success as well as any political support among key policymakers, constituencies and allies for the advocacy goal and objectives.

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:

  • Whose opinion do we want to change, and why?
  • How should their opinion or behaviour be changed?
  • What actions or steps do we want them to take?
  • What is the time frame?
  • How will we recognise if our efforts have had an impact on opinions and or actions?

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 28.11 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. 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 has 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 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
  • develop a brief ‘code of conduct’ to ensure mutual commitments and respect, as well as protocols for interaction  with the media as a coalition
  • assess progress periodically and make changes if needed.

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 28.12 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.

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. 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.

CARE’s advocacy strategy should outline the tools and actions that CARE will use to achieve its advocacy goals. The tools and actions used will depend on the type of advocacy approach CARE will take.

The appropriate advocacy role for the organisation may be public or private, collaborative or more confrontational, taking the lead or supporting others’ activities (for types of advocacy approaches, see section 3 and Annex 28.4 Advocacy Tools and Guidelines: A resource manual for CARE’s program managers.

The key question for determining the appropriate advocacy role for CARE is:

  • What role is likely to be most effective? What is the political environment and what are CARE’s best strengths for exerting influence-for example, public statements, private lobbying, technical advice to policymakers and providing support to third parties. This question needs to be revisited regularly (at times, daily or weekly) to adapt the strategy to the evolving situation on the ground.
  • The current Humanitarian Advocacy Strategy (HASt) will help in determining this.

CARE can select from a range of tools and actions to convey advocacy messages. 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 local partners
  • sharing information with CARE International Members for external advocacy
  • sharing information with UN country teams 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 the Country Director, Advocacy Advisor or another member of the response team designated for that purpose.

Annex 28.13 Advocacy Tactics and Tools

9.9.1 Case study: CARE advocacy and the Darfur Crisis

In Darfur, CARE has adopted a two-track advocacy approach, focusing on both public and non-public advocacy. The CO has chosen this approach because of the need to weigh the value of public statements against the risk of government reprisals against staff or suspension of critical operations. Public advocacy though press releases, op-eds and briefings has focused on ensuring that the conflict stays ‘visible’, and that public attention continues to focus on the crisis. The majority of the advocacy has been non-public/private, and focused on influencing policy on specific issues through confidential contacts and communication with high-level policymakers.

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.

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

  • What resources or capacity exists in the CO? 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 have on the issue-the mix of skills and experience in the CO that is critical to the advocacy role selected? Does it 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 who could be seconded or contribute to the effort through the Emergency Advocacy Group 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 Annex 28.4 Advocacy Tools and Guidelines: A resource manual for CARE’s program managers)