Policy Advocacy

Although advocacy might seem like a relatively straightforward concept at first glance, there are multiple perspectives as to what this means when one attempts to break it down as a concept. Advocacy, broadly, can be seen as actions taken to represent and work with a person or a group of people to ensure that their rights are upheld.

As this toolkit suggests, advocacy for refugee rights can include legal services, community legal empowerment, policy advocacy and strategic litigation. The focus of this chapter, policy advocacy, places specific attention on how refugee rights leaders can influence change in policies and legislation to advance refugee rights. This may involve efforts to:

  • Establish new policies
  • Improve existing policies
  • Challenge the development of policies that reduce the resources and opportunities for refugees
  • Ensure that refugee protection policies and legislations are followed through and implemented in practice

Fundamentally, policy advocacy activities seek to ‘negotiate and mediate a dialogue’ so that influential networks, opinion leaders, and ultimately policymakers, can take ownership of your ideas, evidence and proposals in order to act upon them.

Section overview

To be effective in your policy advocacy activities, careful planning and management is needed. Therefore, the Policy Advocacy Development and Management section of the toolkit provides a guide on how to plan your policy advocacy, to develop your advocacy goals, and to monitor and evaluate your policy advocacy goals.

As influencing policy is a long-term process and long-term goal, it is helpful to break this down into policy advocacy strategies and activities. For example, an organization’s activities may involve relationship-building activities with people of influence on a day-to-day basis. It could also mean drafting recommendations for legislative changes to prepare policymakers in the next policy window. The Policy Advocacy Strategies section of the chapter will explain some of the common advocacy strategies. Strategies addressed include coalitions and networks, letter writing campaigns, events, direct lobbying, relationship building, as well as education and capacity building for policymakers and the general public.

To influence policy and legislations, there are many stakeholders that you can choose to direct your activities towards. Advocacy strategies may focus on working with the local government to influence policies. It may also include advocating with UNHCR, human rights bodies, and with networks on global and/or local levels. The policy advocacy activities you choose to adopt will largely depend on the actor you seek to influence and the context that you work in. The Applying Strategies to Common Stakeholders section of this chapter will provide advice on advocating with the government and UNHCR.

More than a prescription for acting, this chapter should be understood as a recommendation to think carefully before acting – to understand why you are following a particular course, be clear about expectations, and be willing to revisit your decisions regularly. This approach reflects a commitment to reviewing results, acknowledging ineffective strategies, and actively changing them to produce the best outcome for refugee clients.