Best practice community advocacy begins with a clear and realistic ‘ask’ supported by evidence. That ask is most effective when it represents community sentiment.
What is community advocacy?
Community advocacy is a strategic approach to influencing outcomes and driving change on behalf of your community. It involves representing your community’s rights and needs to the level of government best able to respond.
What’s the difference between advocacy and lobbying?
There are varying opinions on the difference between the two. In many contexts, the terms are used interchangeably.
For our purposes, we consider the difference to be that ‘lobbying’ is a form of advocacy performed on behalf of a third party for a fee and tends to relate to a specific piece of legislation that impacts an individual, commercial entity, or sector. ‘Advocacy’ is a broader term that encompasses a range of practices, from awareness-raising through to community mobilisation campaigns.
In this document, we use the term ‘advocacy’ in the context of it being delivered by a local government on behalf of its community.
Why is community advocacy important?
Communities have complex and wide-ranging needs and many of these are beyond the ability, remit or responsibility of a single government organisation. As the level of government closest to the people, local government is well-positioned to harness community sentiment and use that to influence outcomes. Structured advocacy gives your community a voice that is non-political, strategic, and evidence-based.
Best practice advocacy begins with a clear and realistic ‘ask’ supported by evidence. That ask is most effective when it represents community sentiment.
Generally, advocacy strategies and campaigns aim to influence:
- funding and resources
- infrastructure priorities
- policy change
- process change
When do you need to advocate?
Advocacy is required when there’s a clearly identifiable and pressing need or issue that you (as a local government) can’t respond to on your own or is the responsibility of another level of government.
Community advocacy activities and campaigns may be part of a short, mid, or long-term strategy, or may represent an urgent and emerging need.
What is your role as an advocate?
|and the ask
- Engage with your community to make sure you fully understand the issue/need of those affected
- Gather relevant data and evidence to demonstrate the issue/need. This may involve engaging with internal and external experts and other stakeholders
- Identify a realistic solution (your ask). It will be based on the evidence and will meet your community’s needs/expectations
- Where possible, provide a business case or cost associated with your ask
- Make all relevant information easily available online. This includes your ask, the supporting evidence, and how community members can get involved
- Test the solution with your community
- Seek political support/endorsement from your elected members (if required)
|Understand the strategic context
|Identify and understand:
- How this community advocacy priority fits within your organisation’s existing strategies and corporate priorities
- How it fits with the strategic direction and priorities of the government you will be advocating to
- Leverage that alignment
- Identify opportunities where you will have the most influence, e.g., elections and budget cycles, etc.
|Develop your strategy
- Your community advocacy target (who are you advocating to?)
- Your primary spokesperson/champion and any third party advocates
- Your key messages
- What advocacy tactics you will use and when.
- Engage other relevant stakeholders and third-party advocates who are willing to join your voice and add weight to your campaign.
- This may include other local governments, peak bodies, community groups, non-government organisations, high profile individuals, research organisations, etc.
|Roll out advocacy activities
- Deliver your planned tactics, based on your strategy
- Measure your results and report back to the community
How do you advocate for your community?
There are various ways to understand your community’s needs and then represent those needs to the appropriate level of government. You can use all or some of the following, depending on the nature of your ask, timing, and availability of budget and resources.
|Gather community sentiment
- Take a pulse check of your community to gauge its sentiment around a particular issue or need. You can then use this to help support your ask
- Invite your community to be the voice of a structured campaign (through surveys, polls, social media, emails etc.)
- This may first require an awareness phase to make sure your community fully understands the issue and proposed solution(s)
- Mobilisation may be for a focused period (e.g., in the lead up to an election) or it may ongoing
|Direct community advocacy
- Meet with decision-makers to state your case. Ideally, you should meet with relevant politicians and executive-level officials
- Provide information in advance of the meeting (usually via briefing note)
- Provide additional information during the meeting and direct them to online sources for future reference
- Use third-party advocates where appropriate, to accompany your primary spokesperson
- Use formal opportunities such as budget submissions to other levels of government when your ask has been costed or has a business case
- Harness support from other communities impacted by the same issue
Things to consider while advocating
|What are your key messages?
|You need to be able to clearly articulate to all stakeholders:
- What you’re asking for
- Why you’re asking for it
- How it will benefit the community
- How it will benefit the level of government being targeted
- The consequences if the outcome is not achieved/delivered
- How people can get involved
|How will people access information?
- You need a platform where all relevant information and engagement/mobilisation opportunities can be found (your single source of truth)
- Your supporting evidence should be readily accessible, enabling community members to use it for their own advocacy efforts
|Who do you need to support your ask?
- Who is best placed to be a third-party advocate for you?
- They may join with your voice or may advocate separately, using shared evidence and advocating for the same ask
|Are there differing views in the community about this issue/need?
- If so, how will you manage them?
|Is your organisation comfortable with the community independently advocating on this issue?
- The best way to ensure consistent messaging in community-based advocacy is to make sure everyone has access to accurate, timely, and concise information
|What is an acceptable outcome and how will you measure it?
- This is something you’ll want to know very early in your strategy and campaign planning, and include it in your communication
|When do you need a result by?
- Is this issue time-sensitive?
- Is the opportunity to advocate to the community time-sensitive (e.g., an election: yours or theirs)
|How much budget will you need?
- A community mobilisation campaign will likely require additional budget. This may include video production, billboards, traditional advertising, social/digital campaigns, flyers, presence at events, etc.
|How will you involve your elected representatives?
- Generally, your key spokesperson will be an elected representative (e.g., the Mayor), supported by the relevant executive
- Other elected representatives will be well-positioned to support your advocacy efforts, either in helping keep the community informed or in encouraging participating in mobilisation campaigns
- What information and tools do they need to be able to contribute effectively?
|How will you cut through the many voices seeking to influence decision-makers?
|With community advocacy becoming a formalised function in many local government organisations, it can be difficult to be heard.
The best way to stand out is to:
- be strategic
- clearly articulate your community’s need
- demonstrate strong community support
|Will a community mobilisation campaign damage relationships with other levels of government?
- If delivered in a way that is fair and bi-partisan, relationships should not be damaged
- Campaigns should be issues-based not based on party politics
|How will you measure success?
- Do you need to achieve every element of your ask to be successful?
- A commitment to deliver the ask is a first and important step in achieving an outcome, but you may then need to monitor its delivery, and continue to keep your community updated
EngagementHQ tools for community advocacy
EngagementHQ provides a range of tools and widgets that help your community shape and drive advocacy campaigns.
You can use EngagementHQ:
- for engagement activities to help determine community advocacy priorities, seek input into an emerging issue, or input into a broader advocacy strategy
- as an information portal where all underpinning evidence can be submitted and accessed
- to provide a place where the community can actively support a campaign through surveys, direct contact with candidates, etc.
- as a single source of truth for all activities and information (an evidence base)