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Advocacy can be defined as ‘A set of organised actions to change public policies and laws in a way that will strengthen marginalised communities.’ Advocacy has been described as a craft with techniques that can be learned and practised.

How do you advocate successfully?

Irene Opper interviewed experienced advocates and the following is an extract from her article Changing the System – What works? Insights from advocates for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Queensland. 

Their insights apply not only to the multicultural area, but to any advocacy efforts.

Positive change occurs at many different levels and through diverse strategies. Drawing from the experience of the advocates interviewed, what you do is important and so is how you do it.


 Be clear about what you want to achieve.  Find, or join with, people who share your concerns and develop shared goals.
 Collaborate / Form partnerships / Form a group.  Develop and maintain relationships of trust with allies from government, community sector and ethnic communities.
 Develop a strategy that could include participation on committees, using the media, using the law, community education, individual advocacy, pilot projects, petitions, protests.  Look for opportunities. Make use of controversy.
 Lobby politicians and senior bureaucrats.  Regular or single purpose meetings. Be non-confrontational. Present win-win solutions. Don’t forget the Opposition, local MPs, senior advisers, allies in minor parties.

  Present solutions, not problems.

  Use evidence.

 Prepare reports based on consultation and/or research with specific solutions recommended. Use strong arguments.

 If advocating from within government – use briefing papers.

 Be persuasive.

 Be prepared for the long haul.  Support one another and celebrate large and small gains.
 Be persistent and focussed.

Some advice from experienced advocates:

  • “You need a policy framework, endorsed at the highest level. The key is gaining political support, not just support from bureaucrats.”
  • Teamwork and support from colleagues is essential. “You can’t do anything alone.”
  • Timing is important – if the government is examining an area, you are more likely to get a result. Be prepared so can take advantage when the issue comes under the spotlight.
  • "It’s crucial to have a good relationship with key people. Develop goodwill by assisting them when you can; call favours in when the timing is good for your issue."
  • Rarely use the media – it will get a politician’s back up. Strategic use can be effective though. Stories can be powerful.
  • Projects are worthwhile – they give intensive focus in an area and can prove a need.
  • Systems advocacy should be steeped in hands-on work; it is by working with people from ethnic communities who are facing difficulties that you know what systemic changes are needed.
  • Be open with your agenda, do not hide it but be strategic with how you describe it.
  • Develop more than one voice.
  • When you lobby, make it a win-win situation so government sees the benefit for themselves and the community. “Lobbying must be constructive, not about criticism. You can start with some critical analysis but don’t dwell on blame - it is futile. Raise the question – how do we solve this? With those who play politics, play the same game. Be constructive. Work with all politicians, all parties. Always be balanced, invite politicians from all sides including independents.”
  • “Avoid turf fights, don’t worry about who gets the credit. Don’t just go for money, do what meets your vision / mission, refuse to compete, live by your principles, use respectful processes.”
  • “From little things, big things grow. You must be optimistic.”
For examples of Irene Opper's advocacy experience click here