What is advocacy?

Advocacy is a powerful tool for social change. It plays an important role in fighting and ending oppression, while also saving and improving lives. But what does advocacy really mean?

Most dictionaries define the concept as the act of supporting or recommending a cause, idea or policy.

Websites and publications provide more detailed descriptions. For example, Wikipedia describes advocacy as a “political process by an individual or group which aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Advocacy can include many activities that a person or organization undertakes including media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning and publishing research or conducting exit poll or the filing of an amicus brief.” (Source)

The UK-based healthcare advocacy organization, SEAP (Support, Empower, Advocate, Promote), focuses more on how advocacy empowers individuals and groups:

“Advocacy in all its forms seeks to ensure that people, particularly those who are most vulnerable in society, are able to:

  • Have their voice heard on issues that are important to them.
  • Defend and safeguard their rights.
  • Have their views and wishes genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives.

Advocacy is a process of supporting and enabling people to:

  • Express their views and concerns.
  • Access information and services.
  • Defend and promote their rights and responsibilities.
  • Explore choices and options.” (Source)

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) provides a more policy-focused definition, describing advocacy as “a strategy to influence policy-makers to make a policy change,” (Source) while the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) describes the concept as “the process of strategically managing information and knowledge to change and/or influence policies and practices that affect the lives of people – particularly the disadvantaged.” (Source)

There are varying definitions of advocacy depending on the sector or profession you are looking at, or the goals of an organization, but an overarching aspect that unites all definitions is the goal of promoting social change. Evidently, the arts and communications can play significant roles in harnessing the power of advocacy.

Over the coming weeks and months I’ll delve deeper into this topic by examining advocacy strategies and best practices.

In the meantime, you can learn more about advocacy via the links below:

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