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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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"Too often, we invest in organization and not in networks. Networks are the cross organizational connective tissue. Networks are the collections of people bound together and enabled by common stories, dense communications support, shared tools, strong social ties and an evolving clarity of purpose."
— Marty Kearns, Green Media Toolshed

EXAMPLES

The Peace and Security Initiative recently created a map of advocacy priorities for its members. While the Peace and Security Initiative is not an advocacy group per se, this mapping exercise is a good example of how organizations can learn which other groups have which priorities as they try to understand the "policy advocacy landscape" in which their own activities will take place.

Issue Landscape: Mapping the Field

Build your capacity to map the landscape
The field of foreign policy is broad and complex. This complexity can often make it difficult for organizations to single out an advocacy goal that can be achieved within a reasonable time frame while contributing towards a larger change in U.S. foreign policy. Equally important is articulating how your advocacy goal fits in the landscape of the current foreign policy debate, and more broadly in the public discourse. Mapping the landscape is an important process to go through because it will help you identify potential allies as well as opponents, and it will help equip you with the analytical competencies to connect your advocacy goal with topics such as national security, poverty and inequality, environment, and public health, among others.

In her 2005 report “Mapping the U.S. foreign assistance advocacy landscape,” Carolyn Long states, “Growing recognition in the NGO community that groups ought to be paying more attention to issues once thought to be beyond their purview, such as trade and agriculture, will require new knowledge and skills, just as the focus on debt —now in its ninth year—required.” Having a good understanding of the foreign policy landscape and its players will also help you identify major policy benchmarks.

Foreign policy communities: Where do you fit in?
There are many 'sub-communities' within the larger foreign policy community, representing everything from debt relief and fair trade to ending genocide and curbing climate change. There are many global challenges to address, and the U.S. has a critical leadership role to play on most The U.S. public and specifically your constituency is hearing many of these often competing messages. Some people in your target audience may be struggling to make sense of all of them and trying to prioritize which issue they will dedicate their time and resources.

How do you run an effective campaign against this complex backdrop? We suggest focusing on your advocacy goal, while constantly monitoring the foreign policy debate. The more you know about the field in which you operate,, the more effective you can be in framing your advocacy “ask.” Look at opportunities in the landscape. Which members of Congress have expressed support or opposition to your issue or to related topics? How is the media covering your issue?

Also, keep in mind that educating your constituency about your foreign policy topic involves answering questions such as “How does global poverty relate to national security?” “Is fighting global AIDS connected to protecting the environment?” “Why ask for more foreign aid if the money goes to corrupt governments?” “Isn't the U.S. already giving more foreign aid money than any other country in the world?” These are important questions and your constituents deserve answers. The U.S. in the World guide offers some useful responses to many frequently asked questions and critiques.

Is it bad or good to simplify your advocacy issue?
Often advocates feel the need to simplify their messages to present them to policy makers, stakeholders and to the public. Yes, ”simple and concise” is a sound messaging approach for your public education efforts, and many will recommend writing short, (one- to two- pages -briefs for policy makers. But to be simple effective in your messaging you may need a comprehensive external assessment of the frames through which your foreign policy issue is being perceived, and the frames through which related policy issues are being discussed.

Policy makers operate in a constantly moving environment and you need to adjust your efforts. For example, when the focus of the aid debate recently moved from aid increase to aid effectiveness, were advocacy organizations prepared to contribute to the new debate? Were they able to assess and adjust their advocacy goals and messages accordingly? It is critical to build your organizational competencies to monitor these changes and react to them. You need, in short, vigilance and agility.

TIPS

  • Read foreign policy blogs and other resources to stay up-to-date with the foreign policy debate.
  • Investigate joining the coalitions that are important to your advocacy goals; in addition to strengthening your advocacy efforts, coalitions can offer venues where you can learn and share important information with other organizations.
  • Attend in-person and online events that relate to your work.
  • Sign up for news alerts using key words related to your advocacy issue.