- On October 23, 2015
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In the 80s and 90s, civil society saw advocacy as a process in which to bash, bash and bash government. When ActionAid developed its first comprehensive global strategy called Fighting Poverty Together in the late 90s, it made a radical shift from service provision to the human rights based approach to development. The leaders of the organisation were divided over what the approach entailed. To some, ActionAid could no longer collaborate with government. So ‘collaboration with government’ in any way was regarded as a refusal to migrate to advocacy.
A participant in any basic workshop on advocacy would come away with the following information:
Successful advocacy uses a range of tools, from the subtle and soft to the hard and confrontational. Each is a potentially appropriate tool to be used and it is the circumstance that dictates which should be used. For instance, in a situation where the target of influence is assessed to be willing to do the right thing but is not doing it out of ignorance, the provision of the right information is all that is required to influence change. In some other context the affected people and other stakeholders supporting and sympathetic to them may be mobilise to flex their muscles.
Advocacy thrives on critical masses sometimes.
A good stakeholder analysis is a must for successful advocacy. It allows the organisation to identify as many critical allies as possible. It is surprising who a good stakeholder analysis may turn out as a strong ally. For instance, in a planned advocacy to influence increased allocation of teachers to rural schools in a particular region, the organisers may find that district and regional directorates of education are themselves unhappy with the situation and want to see it changed. However, they are hampered from initiating action because they are civil servants.
Allies in an advocacy process play different roles. Some would provide badly needed information. In the case of the staff of the education directorates in the above bullet point, they could provide information on numbers of teachers and even the national pattern of allocation of teachers and the reasons for the unfair teacher distribution. Some provide resources. Others have the contacts to rope in more activists etc.
At the time civil society relationship with government was to criticise, condemn and find fault, the reaction of government and its own allies such as the Breton Woods institutions was, understandably, hostile. The reaction of government and its agencies was to harden their hearts and to see civil society as mischief makers in competition with government.
Two recent personal experiences have reminded me very strongly of the wisdom in the approaches to advocacy indicated in the bullet points above. Under the second phase of the project, “Making Decentralisation Work for the Poor”, SEND-GHANA supported district based structures, the District Citizens’ Monitoring Committees, to facilitate community driven action to hold District Assemblies to account and to influence community participation in the development of plans. During the evaluation of the project I was pleasantly surprised to find District Planning Officers who had been very happy with the project as it supported their assertion to follow the guidelines for planning. They had been happy that civil society organisations were emphasising adherence to the principles of development they sought in vain to apply in their work.
Some of them fought to have resources allocated for monitoring so that they could follow up and observe the implementation of planned activities. Some of them saw development in its totality and wanted to allocate resources not only for school block construction but to observe the impact school block construction had on children and the non-infrastructural interventions needed to give children quality education. But their superiors, the Chief Executives and Coordinating Directors, saw development only in physical structures – roads, clinics, school blocks, boreholes etc. During the evaluation process the Planning Officers asked how they could be supported to continue to fight to ensure the right thing was done now that the project was coming to an end. Obviously this is a group that could be an ally in any advocacy to influence compliance with the development planning guidelines, even though they are part of government.
At a recent meeting called by the Ghana Trade and Livelihoods Coalition to share a report on a study on the reality of government policy on agriculture, participants bemoaned the inability of District Assemblies to support the provision of agric extension services to farmers. A Planning Officer explained their challenge, the fact that in community consultations the need for extension services may not come up, and the fact that the leadership of the District Assembly is interested in physical aides to development and not the other, sometimes even more essential, intangible aides to development. So extension services are put on the back burner. It must be noted here that her position reveals allies even in the group targeted for influencing.
Advocacy theory explains how a target of one advocacy process could be a collaborator in yet another advocacy process. Advocacy at the district level to improve teacher attendance, increase contact hours and ensure supervision would target the district education set up. If the challenge in the district is a very low number of trained teachers, the education directorate could become an ally in an advocacy to improve the posting of trained teachers to the region and districts.
Civil society advocacy has gone through changes, with civil society actors seeing advocacy as what it is, a wide range of strategies to influence change. So they are not shy of sharing information, holding cordial meetings to raise and discuss issues, inviting duty bearers to presentations of research findings that inform the duty bearers and even sharing skills to improve delivery. Government increasingly now sees civil society as partners in development and some government agencies now consciously invite the views and participation of civil society in development processes. This was another area of controversy in the past; some civil society actors said it was wrong for members of civil society to be part of any planning process as that would compromise their ability to criticise later. Don’t laugh.
Government and its agencies are very far from being transparent, accountable and enhancing genuine participation in defining problems and developing appropriate strategies to address them. But they are more amenable now to alternative views and go some distance in taking and using alternative options. Civil society can build on the principles of advocacy and continue to seek allies even in government and other duty bearers to enrich their advocacy process and be more effective.
Story by Mr. Chals Wontewe, Freelance Consultant and a Development Advocate