Advocacy is the pursuit of influencing outcomes –including public-policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions- that directly affect people’s lives. (Cohen, 2001)
Therefore, advocacy can be seen as a deliberate process of speaking out on issues of concern in order to exert some influence on behalf of ideas or persons. Based on this definition, Cohen (2001) states that “ideologues of all persuasions advocate” to bring a change in people’s lives. However, advocacy has many interpretations depending on the issue at stake, which can be different from this initial value-neutral definition.
Forms of advocacy
There are several forms of advocacy, which each represent a different approach in the way change is brought into society. One of the most popular forms is social justice advocacy.
Although it is true, the initial definition does not encompass the notions of power relations, people’s participation and a vision of a just society that promoted by social justice advocates. For them, advocacy represents the series of actions taken and issues highlighted to change the “what is” into a “what should be”, considering that this “what should be” is a more decent and a more just society (ib., 2001.) Those actions, which vary with the political, economical and social environment in which they are conducted, have several points in common (ib., 2001.) They:
::- question the way policy is administered
::- participate in the agenda setting as they raise significant issues
::- target political systems “because those systems are not responding to people’s needs”
::- are inclusive and engaging
::- propose policy solutions
::- open up space for public argumentation.
Some of the other forms of advocacy include:
* Ideological advocacy: in this approach, groups fight, sometimes during protests, to advance their ideas in the decision-making circles.
* Mass advocacy: is any type of action taken by large groups (petitions, demonstrations, etc.)
* Interest-group advocacy: lobbying is the main tool used by interests groups doing mass advocacy. It is a form of action that does not always succeed at influencing political decision-makers as it requires resources and organisation to be effective.
* Bureaucratic advocacy: people considered “experts” have more chance to succeed at presenting their issues to decision-makers. They use bureaucratic advocacy to influence the agenda, however at a slower pace.
* Legislative advocacy: legislative advocacy is the “reliance on the state or federal legislative process” as part of a strategy to create change.(Loue, Lloyd and O’Shea, 2003)
* Media advocacy: is “the strategic use of the mass media as a resource to advance a social or public policy initiative” (Jernigan and Wright, 1996.) In Canada for example, the Manitoba Public Insurance campaigns illustrate how media advocacy was used to fight alcohol and tobacco-related health issues. We can also consider the role of health advocacy and the media in “the enactment of municipal smoking bylaws in Canada between 1970 and 1995.” (Asbridge, 2004)
* In a legal/law context: An 'advocate' is the title of a specific person who is authorized/appointed (in some way) to speak on behalf of a person in a legal process. See
* In a political context: An 'advocacy group' is an organized collection of people who seek to influence political decisions and policy, without seeking election to public office. See
* In a social care context: Both terms (and more specific ones such as 'independent advocacy') are used in the UK in the context of a network of interconnected organisations and projects which seek to benefit people who are in difficulty (primarily in the context of disability and mental health).
* In the context of inclusion: Citizen Advocacy organisations (citizen advocacy programmes) seek to cause benefit by reconnecting people who have become isolated. Their practice was defined in two key documents: CAPE, and Learning from Citizen Advocacy Programs. See
Citizen Advocacy organisations.
Advocacy is lead by advocates or, when they are organized in groups as it is the case most of the time, advocacy groups. Advocacy groups as defined by Young and Everritt (2004, 5) are different from political parties which “seek to influence government policy by governing.” They are “any organization that seeks to influence government policy, but not to govern.” This definition includes social movements, sometimes network of organizations which are also focused on encouraging social change. Social movements try to either influence governments or, like the environmental movement, to influence people’s ideas or actions.
Today, advocacy groups contribute to democracy in many ways (ib., 2004.) They have five key functions:
** Give a voice to (misrepresented) citizen interests
** Mobilize citizens to participate in the democratic process
** Support the development of a culture of democracy
** Assist in the development of better public policy
** Ensure governments’ accountability to citizens.
In comparison to other countries and other the last thirty years, an increasing number (40 percent) of the Canadian population is member of an organization which has had an advocacy role and has tried to achieve political change. Such a level of participation is a positive indicator of the health of the democracy in Canada (ib., 2004.)
Advocates and advocacy groups represent a wide range of categories and support several issues as listed on [http://www.worldadvocacy.com World Advocacy] . The [http://www.advocacyinstitute.org/index.shtml Advocacy Institute] , a US-based global organization, is dedicated to strengthening the capacity of political, social, and economic justice advocates to influence and change public policy (Cohen, de la Vega & Watson, 2001.)
The phenomenon of globalization draws a special attention to advocacy beyond countries’ borders. The core existence of networks such as World Advocacy or the Advocacy Institute demonstrates the increasing importance of transnational advocacy and international advocacy. Transnational advocacy networks are more likely to emerge around issues where external influence is necessary to ease the communication between internal groups and their government. Groups of advocates willing to further their mission also tend to promote networks and to meet with their internal counterparts to exchange ideas (Keck and Sikkink, 1998.)
* [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/advocacy Definition of advocacy by the Free Online Dictionary]
* [http://www.voluntary-sector.ca/eng/publications/2002/position_paper.cfm Advocacy – the sound of citizen’s voices]
* [http://womanspace.ca/documents/How%20to%20-%20Advocate%20For%20Yourself.pdf How to advocate for yourself]
* [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14572918 Public place restrictions on smoking in Canada: assessing the role of the state, media, science and public health advocacy.]
Asbridge, M. 2004. Public place restrictions on smoking in Canada: assessing the role of the state, media, science and public health advocacy. Social science & medicine 58(1):13-24.
Cohen, D., R. de la Vega, G. Watson. 2001. Advocacy for social justice. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press Inc.
Jerningan, D.H. and P. Wright. 1996. Media advocacy: lessons from community experiences. Journal of Public Health Policy Vol.17, No.3: 306-330.
Keck, M.E. and K. Sikkink. 1998. Activists beyond borders: advocacy networks in international politics. Baltimore, MD: Cornell University Press.
Loue, S., L.S. Lloyd, D. J. O’shea. 2003. Community health advocacy. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
Young, L. And J. Everitt. 2004. Advocacy groups. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press
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