Considering Policy Advocacy Risks

When planning your policy advocacy goals and strategies, it is essential to take into account your organization’s own capabilities and vulnerabilities. This requires an assessment of what an organization can realistically do in light of your proposed activities’ level of risks. This section will provide a framework to help you assess the level of risk associated with your policy advocacy strategies, which is an important step to better prepare you to create your policy advocacy plan.

Why assess policy advocacy risks?

Policy advocacy requires an assessment of risk. An organization must recognize that not only may policy goals not be met, but that something worse might happen. Policy advocacy is a process of interaction with other actors, who may react in different ways.

It is important to be aware of the ways an advocacy plan might enable the systematic problems it seeks to reverse. You may ask:

  • May the ways of planned advocacy lead to retribution against the organization?
  • Could it undermine relationships that are useful for the organization in other areas of its work?
  • Could it endanger funding sources or staff safety?

Certain policy advocacy tools might only be effective in certain political environments. For example, public campaigning may entail more risk than others. In addition, advocacy can also strain relationships when it involves publicly criticizing particular people or groups. Oftentimes a target for advocacy might also be a partner, so it is important to determine how to influence them without straining the relationship. Furthermore, working in partnerships may bring its own set of risks. For example, partnering with a political entity or certain government bodies may damage your organization’s neutrality. Therefore, it is important to consider how your policy advocacy activities will influence your organization.

 As you consider your policy advocacy tools, it is helpful to remember that not all policy advocacy tools are formal and public. Going to court and issuing public reports and statements may be the most well known tactics of human rights advocacy, but informal phone calls, private meetings, negotiating, and slow persuasion are sometimes just as effective.

Also, not all advocacy is direct. If the main actor behind a rights violation is beyond an organization’s capacity to directly influence, the organization might be able to influence a different actor, which in turn may have more influence on the real target of the policy advocacy. This approach may minimize your level of risks.

How to assess policy advocacy risks?

Risks can be minimized through careful analysis and planning. Risk management often involves weighing opportunity costs. For example, speaking out strongly may be better than losing legitimacy by keeping quiet in certain situations. At other times taking a certain position on an issue may result in being asked to leave the country, or put your staff in physical danger.

Therefore, organizations should, to the best of its ability, develop (1) a clear understanding of dangers, (2) an honest understanding of its own risk tolerance, and (3) be willing to compromise other goals in order to avoid risk. To assess the risk factors associated with each strategy, you may choose to consider following the steps below. This exercise also requires you to be realistic about finances and expected responses.

  1. Brainstorm all the actions your organization may take on behalf of a particular issue, keeping in mind the levers of influence discussed in the Understanding Levers of Influence section.
  2. For each possible action, identify how the targeted actor would be likely to respond. Include both positive and negative responses.
Action Predicted Positive Response Predicted Negative Response

3. Identify the resources required to perform the actions needed to prompt the expected response from each targeted actor.

Action Resources Required Expected Response

After assessing the risks involved in your proposed activities, you should now be in a better position to evaluate which tools and actions are most feasible and effective to implement. You may refer to Creating a Policy Advocacy Plan to align your selected actions to your advocacy goal.