Understanding Essential Elements of Advocacy in Engaging the Authorities on FOI Act: Some Useful Tools for CSOs

What Advocacy is Not

Advocacy is not a noise making exercise as some people are wont to believe. Though it might be necessary to drum the beat of change into the hearing of the target authorities, this goes beyond noise making; it is speaking out. Advocacy is not blind agitation, though it involves the use of pressure to effect a change. Though implied, advocacy is not just proposing changes to the existing policies; it subsumes creating new policies where none existed before. Advocacy is not an information-education-entertainment initiative though it can inform, educate and communicate to the people the benefits of socio-economic policies that might impact on the lives of all irrespective of gender or status.


seeking with, and on behalf of, the poor, to address the underlying causes of poverty by influencing the decisions of governments, companies, groups, and individuals whose policies or actions affect the poor’ (Tear Fund 1999).

What Advocacy Is

The word ‘advocacy’ takes its roots from the Latin ‘ad vocare’ meaning to speak for someone, not only speaking for but also speaking with the people proposing or recommending something or someone for better options. It implies identifying a cause, believing in it, mobilizing and influencing others to support it so as to change the policy or programme that is negatively affecting that cause.

Kinds of Advocacy

The following are common kinds of advocacy, though the list is not exhaustive:

  • Feminist advocacy: focuses campaigning solely on women’s identity and ideology.
  • Gender advocacy: believes in equity of resources between male and female, young or old.
  • Policy advocacy: may be targeted towards the executive or the legislative arms of government, works towards changing the existing programme of actions or set of principles and policies or enacting a new one for the benefit of all especially the common man.
  • Legislative advocacy: sometimes used interchangeably with policy advocacy which may emanate from the executive arm of government, focuses on working with and using only the parliament to effect a change in policy or enact a new one.
  • Confrontational advocacy: this deals more with the strategy of achieving a change at all cost by all means without necessarily promoting dialogue.
  • Legitimate advocacy: This is advocating for a change through compliance with recognized rules, standards or traditions.
  • Egocentric advocacy: suggests pressing for a change for a selfish reason.
  • Demonstrative advocacy: This is a type of advocacy in which the advocates themselves take up the responsibility of the target of advocacy so as to show deficiency of the latter or to challenge the latter to take a cue.
  • Sectoral advocacy: while focusing on campaigning for a reform and a change in policies it targets the specific sector of the economy such as health, water, agriculture, education, land and housing etc. both in public and private sectors.
  • Economic advocacy: it focuses attention on economic issues affecting the nation such as debt cancellation, reform, due process, pro-poor budgeting, extractive industries etc.
  • Social Service advocacy: this is related to both economic advocacy and sectoral advocacy as the main focus here is campaigning for the social welfare of the people in which donors, for example, should provide funds directly to the government who will factor this into the national budget example is Direct Budget System (DBS).
  • Media advocacy deals with the strategy of achieving advocacy goal through the use of media both print and electronic.

Other kinds of advocacy are self-explanatory including self-advocacy, customer advocacy, consumer advocacy, child advocacy, cycling advocacy, trails advocacy, prison advocacy, patient advocacy and so on and so forth.

Purpose and Objectives of Advocacy

The main purpose of advocacy is to engage authorities or governments in dialogue so as to effect a change in their existing policies, practices, beliefs and ideas that are anti-people and not poor-responsive.

In addition, where there were no policies before, advocacy would aim at causing the authorities to enact new policies on emerging issues that are adversely affecting the lives of the people.

Advocacy is necessary in order to: influence the policy makers as a means of addressing roots and causes of the particular problem; contribute more effectively to reducing poverty and preventing deaths and suffering through the use of a wide range of intervention; reach a large segment of the population and broaden the scope of program impact; increase financial and material support for programmes.

Objectives of Advocacy

  • Change laws/policies,
  • Enact new legislation (e.g. pre-2011 FOIA),
  • Change the position of policymakers and or authorities,
  • Change the action of policymakers and or authorities.

Secondary Objectives

In the process of carrying out each or all of the above objectives, we could be carrying out and achieving other objectives that we might or we might not have planned for. Secondary objectives could be

  • Increasing social organization and participation,
  • Strengthening CSOs (NGOs, CBOs, FBOs)etc  alliance,
  • Increasing public awareness,
  • Increasing media awareness on an issue that is not necessarily germane to the issue on focus,
  • Increasing access to policy-makers by the poor masses
Whether as a group or as an individual, there are certain qualities an advocate should possess. These include but are not limited to:
Being passionate;Being diplomatic;Being persuasive;Being sensitive


Being tactful;

Being resilient;

Being credible;

Being dependable;Being knowledgeable;Being resourceful;Being strategic;


Being pleasant;

Having communication skills and;

Using lobbying skills


Advocacy methods might be used synonymously with tools or strategies for the purpose of this discourse. In order to make advocacy effective, it should be communicated through a variety of methods and activities. It is vital when advocating to use methods that complement each other in order to have the greatest impact on the widest selection of targets possible because if methods are not coordinated, resources can be wasted and objectives undermined. It is also important to represent the interests and views of the widest selection of people as advocacy sometimes is a game of number.


“Lobbying”, derived from the word “lobby”, is a tool used in advocacy by the pressure group that tries to influence a politician on a particular issue. Lobbying involves two or more people. It is building of alliances in order to exert pressure on decision-makers and accomplish expected results; it can sway decision-making in a favourable way for the best interest of the community; it also plays a major role for organizations striving to influence government policies towards their interests. Therefore, lobbying is considered as an action consisting of conducting interventions intended to influence directly or indirectly the development, implementation or revision processes of legislative (or executive) measures, standards and rules.

Different kinds of lobbying strategy

Lobbying a decision-making body: Initiating a bill for legislation could emanate from any arm of government or the public – The executive bill or The legislature or members of the public.

At whatever level the bill is initiated lobbying might be necessary in order to fast-track the bill into law or make the executive accede to it. Lobbying could take place within the legislature among the lawmakers themselves or within a particular committee or between one committee and the other while members of the public could also lobby the legislators in their surgeries or in the house of parliament.

This strategy calls for five different functions of the members of parliament that can be used by pressure groups:

  • Contribute to improving a bill in committee
  • Question decision-makers
  • Liaise with the executive on behalf of his constituency
  • Make suggestions
  • Assist the executives
  • Remind authorities

Direct lobbying: This is an approach built on personal communication between the lobbyists and the lobbied. Personal communication subsumes: presentation, contact, meetings, letters, informal conversation, telephone conversation and so on. It involves getting one’s position across to the decision-makers without an intermediary. The techniques used in direct lobbying are:

  • Oral presentation
  • A letter to a VIP
  • Informational meeting;
  • Approach to support committees
  • Contact with Clubs, Associations or Foundations etc.

An example of a situation in which direct lobbying could be useful is when a personal contact is made to, for example, the Chairman House Committee on Legal Matters so as to pressure her committee to enact a bill on FOIA in the state.

Indirect Lobbying: This strategy aims at achieving the same result as in direct lobbying but with the help of an intermediary but one is more efficient than the other. In the example given above, the chair of the House Committee on health is a woman, her committee is a committee that is directly involved in enacting such bills on health-related issues, and the committee was approached directly. However, an issue might be on increasing budgetary allocation to education to 26 percent, for instance. A group of two or three “unskilled” lobbyists might decide to approach a lawyer to draft such a bill on their behalf for the benefit of the community and submit it to the House of Representatives through the Speaker’s Office or the Clerk of the House. The Speaker might assign this bill to the appropriate committee to handle it and for subsequent presentations (readings).

The 3-man lobbyists do not make any move about the bill other than the job given to the lawyer. Lobbying only takes place at the instance of the lawyer who uses his professional skills to draft the bill and persuades the Speaker’s office to help submit the bill to the appropriate house committee for hearing. More indirect method is for the lobbyists to approach the family members, friends, and associates of any of the legislators requesting them to engage the latter in such (legislative) matter of interest since they are likely to listen in deference to such relations and cronies.

Lobbying community leaders (Gate keepers): Among the community leaders are the traditional rulers, the heads of the households, heads of towns’ unions, political leaders, heads of markets and trade groups, and religious leaders. The non-state actors could approach these people so as to lobby them to support a legislation that would impact on the wellbeing of the community.

To influence the community leaders on issues dealing with tradition, one should know how to develop arguments drawing from their own references since they are keepers of tradition in their own right. For instance, one needs tact and wisdom to convince the traditional leaders the need to support the legislative campaign on the harmful effect of the female genital mutilation or widowhood practices, for example, as the practices are rooted in the tradition of the people. However, it is important to prove to them that their status is not threatened.

Lobbying aimed at public opinion: The best methods of lobbying are often those that are discreet as described above. Some of the time, those methods do not succeed because of the “unskillful” manner lobbying is handled by the personalities involved or because of lack of understanding or the ulterior motive of the authorities concerned. However, when it is clear that the latter factor overbears the former, then public opinions should be resorted to in order to influence the decision-makers.

In this case, every available strategy at the disposal of the lobbyists could be used. This includes media campaign, mass protest, mass mobilization, propaganda, letter writing, petition, strike action, stakeholder lobbying etc. A combination of these methods are being used in Nigeria to garner support for and pressure the National Assembly to pass the Freedom of Information Bill.


These are situational agreements in order to defend a common interest or to oppose a common opponent. It is a forming a group of organizations or individuals committed to working in the long-term on the issue of advocacy. There are two types of collaborating:

  • Collaboration of individuals: it is made up of a large pool of volunteers with strong personal commitment; freedom to come in consensus on issues without external influences.
  • Collaboration of organizations: this type of collaboration is made up of organizations. Each organization comes with its strength, followers, resources, expertise and reputation.

Advantages of Collaboration

  • There is strength in numbers, achieving goals that single organization or individual cannot.
  • More publicity.
  • Expanded pool of resources and varied skills.
  • Expanded knowledge/support base.
  • A leadership/staff with good diplomacy and negotiating skill.

To be successful in advocacy, it is important to build alliances. This allows for uniting forces, better complementing each other’s effort and having more leverage. This requires trust relation between the advocacy group and its allies. Building alliances is carried out in five stages

Identification and choice of partners

  • Getting to know the partners through its name, mode of operation, orientations, strategies, activities and interests.
  • Sharing the objectives with the partners and taking an interest in achieving the same objectives.
  • Definition of each partner’s participation.
  • Managing and maintaining partnership once it is established6.

Media work

Media work is also a very important method of advocacy; the media work has the chance to influence the image of the government because most governments care about their image. Because the media is the maker and shaper of images, their role is then very important in making advocacy successful. There are three types of media:

  • Print media ( news paper, journals, magazine etc)
  • Electronic media ( television and radio)
  • Social media (twitters, facebook, netlog, etc)

The media can play a key role in:

  • Building awareness and changing public opinion on issues
  • Generate action from its audience
  • Put direct pressure on government by placing it in the spotlight
  • Protect and enhance reputation
  • Investigate and expose issues
  • Influence government policy, both directly and through its power to influence and mobilize opinions.

Different campaign demands different media strategy, it is therefore important to identify target audience and find the specific media that will best reach an audience or a number of different audiences and media strategy should specify about what action is needed7.


Campaigning is choosing a specific course of action on the basis of available information and resources which will be most effective in achieving identified objectives. It is an organized course of action to achieve change by convincing the target audience. When campaigning, the following principles must be put into consideration:  focus, clarity, credibility, relevance, timing and commitment.


Mobilization is a very important method of advocacy that subsumes synergizing the critical masses of the people, financial, material and technical resources for a common purpose. In simple terms, the types of resources concerned are individuals, groups, money, contribution in kind, labour, expertise and administrative support, including premises for meetings, supplies and equipment10.

It is important to mobilize the community that will benefit from the change. Among the benefit of community mobilization is that it improves program design, quality result and evaluation. Also, it increases community ownership and community, individual and group capacity to identify and satisfy their needs9.

Resource Mobilization

Resource mobilization is also playing a vital role in advocacy because without resources, advocacy could not survive. In order to maintain this effort in long term, time and energy must be invested to secure the necessary funds and resources. Types of resources and sources that could be used:

  • Personal contributions which comprises subscriptions, contributions in kind, income generating activities, from all the members of the advocacy group.
  • External contributions which comprise donation, legacies, sponsoring, collections, contributions from institutions, companies and various organizations that have been approached.

Letter writing

It is a written message packaged and sent to someone for a purpose including the conventional messages sent by post and email messages sent through the internet. A large number of letters can be a good way of demonstrating the extent of awareness and concern in the society about certain issue. Individual letter can demonstrate a depth knowledge and personal concern, while letters from eminent people can have a particularly great impact. However, letter-writing is such a flexible technique that it can be used in many different ways. Letters can be directed to the necessary authority to make a change on the issue addressed11.


Petition is a written document signed by a large number of people that asks somebody in a position of authority to do or change something. Petition is also used as an advocacy method. It has a tradition in public protest that goes back many centuries.  Some of the benefits of petition are:

  • It can provide a good focus for group and public activities.
  • It is a simple way of allowing people to express their support.
  • It can illustrate the level of public/community on an issue.
  • It is easy and cheap to organize12.

 Choosing appropriate advocacy methods

There are no simple rules for choosing the best advocacy methods. Your choice will depend on many factors:

  • The target person/group/institution;
  • The advocacy issue;
  • Your advocacy objective;
  • The evidence to support your objective;
  •  The skills and resources of your coalition; and
  • Timing – for example, external political events, when a law is still in draft form, immediately before a budgeting process, time of year, stage of advocacy process.

Factors to Consider in Community Mobilization on Advocacy Concern

Magnitude of the problem  
Political support  
Socio-cultural context  
Resources (time, money, skills of staff, and community, equipment and supplies)  
Feasibility of response  
History of  community participation  
Accessibility (geography, climate etc  
Representativeness of other areas in the country  
Remarks:Weigh your pros and cons to draw conclusions