Collective Mind Community Conversations

Networks’ capacity for advocacy

By Seema Patel, Senior Advisor, Collective Mind

Collective Mind hosts regular Community Conversations with our global learning community. These sessions create space for network professionals to connect, share experiences, and cultivate solutions to common problems experienced by networks.

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“The process of using a tool is often more important than the substance of what the tool covers…”

The Collective Mind Community Conversation on October 14th, 2020 was co-hosted by Shannon Williams of the Alliance for Justice’s Bolder Advocacy program. The Alliance for Justice represents over 120 organizations committed to shared progressive values and a common purpose to create an equitable, just, and free society. Its Bolder Advocacy program is a resource for foundations and nonprofits who want to engage more actively and knowledgeably in the policymaking process. Shannon shared how Bolder Advocacy uses their Advocacy Capacity Tool (ACT!) to help organizations and networks assess their capacity in order to strengthen their advocacy efforts. As Shannon described, the value of using a tool like ACT! lies in its framework — the tool provides a structure for conversations about the network’s assets, strengths, and gaps related to its advocacy efforts.

Highlights from the conversation

Defining “advocacy”: As our Community Conversation host, Shannon Williams, pointed out, there is no single definition of advocacy and organizations or networks will define the specifics differently, based on their priority issues. But, broadly speaking, “advocacy is championing or supporting a cause or goal to change policies and systems — inclusive of giving voice to causes that matter to you.” “Advocacy capacity” encompasses the skills, resources, knowledge, and practices used to make effective advocacy possible.

Assessing advocacy-related assets and gaps: Bolder Advocacy’s ACT! is an example of a capacity assessment framework that looks at the different domains necessary to do advocacy effectively. Its main function is to look at who is bringing what to the figurative table in order to move shared advocacy goals forward. The analogy of coming together around a table is one we at Collective Mind are quite familiar with and mirrors our overall network diagnostic framework and approach — that whether it be developing or strengthening a network approach, or strengthening an organization or network’s ability to be more effective at advocacy, you first have to diagnose, assess, understand, and address the strengths and weaknesses. The added bonus of any formal capacity assessment is its ability to establish a baseline against which to measure your progress over time. It provides a tangible and structured answer to the question of “how are we doing?” and direction on what to do next to improve, align, and advance.

Advocacy within the network context: Networks, in particular, may approach advocacy in different ways and at multiple levels. While a network’s functions likely include advocacy, having an explicit advocacy strategy may be a fairly new concept. As pointed out by a conversation participant, they struggle with how to leverage the government policy experience of some of their members when their network goals are more focused on advocacy at the institutional level. A tool like ACT! can help to hone and articulate a network’s advocacy strategy by framing and understanding the expertise of their members and initiating the conversation about how best to work with them.

Additional resources

Miss the session? View the recording here and check out the resources referenced during the session:

Thanks again to Shannon for co-hosting!

If you are interested in having multiple people complete ACT! and having the results automatically aggregated, you can reach out to her at shannon.williams@afj.org.

Get involved

Have your own experiences with advocacy? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Join us for the next Community Conversation!

Or email Seema at seema@collectivemindglobal.org to co-host an upcoming session with us.

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