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.
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:
Some of the other forms of advocacy include:
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:
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 World Advocacy The 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.)
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