Understanding Levers of Influence

Once the key actors are identified, the next step is to brainstorm the ways in which they might be influenced to act or to change policy. Keep in mind that an NGO should use different methods to influence different institutions. This page will outline the potential ways of influencing an actor, and in particular, explain channels to influence UNHCR and the government. It will then guide you through a thinking process to identify the key actors surrounding your issue – and the possible ways that you may influence them. For more information on how you may influence key actors, refer to Applying Strategies to Common Stakeholders.

Potential ways of influencing an actor

Listed below are some means of influencing key actors in your policy advocacy:

  • Invoking a legal obligation
  • Views of governments
  • Judicial intervention
  • Views of donors
  • Intervention by higher authorities within the same agency
  • Shame
  • An idea that makes work more efficient
  • Public opinion
  • Ability to reduce costs
  • Mass media
  • Personal connections
  • Specialized media
  • Persuasion that an alternative path is better

Influencing the government

One of the characteristics of a transparent and accountable government is that it is likely to be open to many different types of engagement from the civil society. Formal mechanisms include litigation in court, formal testimony before parliamentary bodies, and submission of comments on proposed policies. Informal mechanisms are perhaps more common, including talking to executive and legislative bodies through private meetings.

Democratic vs. non-­democratic governments

Democratic governments are, by nature, open to influence by constituents, so that an NGO may organize citizens to contact their representatives. Effective advocates typically use combinations of formal, informal, constituent-­based and public media techniques. Less democratic governments are generally more difficult to engage. Some are hostile to the idea of civil society, criticism and advocacy, presenting more of a risk than an opportunity. In this case, it is essential to gain access to the expertise and experience of people who know the local political culture. It should be noted that with governments, it is possible to influence an authority indirectly by seeking the intervention of another government, a UN body, or the media (local or international). In certain contexts, you may find engaging in regional working groups and/or coalitions a more effective strategy in pressuring national governments to change.

Influencing UNHCR

The UNHCR is often an important ally in leveraging influence over governments. It is also an actor that an NGO may want to influence in its own right. There are typically few formal procedures with UNHCR and no judicial fora available. Therefore, informal advocacy is essential—both with local UNHCR offices and with its Geneva headquarters. NGOs can also consider public advocacy, and may engage donor states with concerns about UNHCR policies.

Guiding questions

You may find the following questions helpful in identifying the actors at work in your local context and the possible ways that you may influence them.

1. Look at the actors that cause the problem. What does or could influence their behavior?

2. Consider what action you would like the actor to take or refrain from taking. What levers of influence could conceivably lead the actor to behave that way?

Action or Change Desired Actor Lever(s) of Influence

 If it is difficult to identify a lever of influence that can produce the change desired, you may wish to review the Setting Policy Advocacy Goals section of the toolkit, which should help you identify the incremental steps needed to achieve your desired change.

3. Identify solution actors

Look at the identified levers of influence. Do any of them involve other actors that may not have caused the problem, but which could make a contribution to a solution? For example, if mass media is a potential lever of influence, then newspapers might be a potential solution actor. Make a list of these solution actors and the factors that can influence their behavior.

Solution Actor Lever(s) of Influence