Effective, Personal Advocacy

Develop an effective advocacy plan for an issue you want to take action on, including identifying relevant actors and allies.

This informational, step-by-step guide will help you more fully develop your advocacy idea, identify allies, and outline a plan of action to impact a policy issue. APS's goal is to help you generate and organize materials that will make your advocacy more effective. This content was developed based on the experiences, practices, and expertise of government affairs professionals. Advocacy activities that APS members and staff undertake using this information may fall outside the scope of APS’s policy positions and activities.

You may also download and print out a worksheet version of this guide.

Issue description

The first step in developing your advocacy activity is to articulate in a clear and concise manner the challenge and actions required to address it and identify the relevant audience for that message. This section guides you through the process of distilling your idea to a short description of what your issue is, what some actions to address it could be, and what groups are relevant stakeholders. It’s essential to use language that someone who is not familiar with the issue can understand.

Policy of interest

  • Description: What is the policy you care about or are interested in changing?
  • Outcome: Short description of the policy

Keywords

  • Description: What are up to five keywords related to your
    advocacy idea? For example: k-12 education, higher-ed, teacher preparation, equity, institutional climate, tax allocations, climate change, etc.
  • Outcome: A list of five or fewer topical areas related to the issue

Concern

  • Description: Summarize, in three to five sentences, what concern might be addressed. You may include background information.
  • Outcome: A short description of the issue

Stakeholders

  • Description: Who are the groups affected by the issue? Keep these groups as local/specific as possible while avoiding things like “the country” or “scientists.” For example: high-school graduates from
    schools in the state, constituents of the specific district, small business, etc.
  • Outcome: A list of groups affected by the issue

Decision makers

  • Description: Who are the people or groups who influence
    the issue? For example: state legislators, a university board of regents, a county council, a school board, etc.
  • Outcome: A list of people or groups who influence the issue

Potential actions

  • Description: What are some actions that can be taken to address the concern identified?
  • Outcome: A list of actions

Relationships

  • Description: This is a key step. For each potential action identified in the previous step, write down the decision makers who could take that action and which concerned groups would be impacted.
  • Outcome: Links between the lists previously generated

Background research

Regarding the concern you wish to solve, there are always unique political realities to contend with when advocating. This section guides you through researching and organizing the information of the “policy space" specific to your local issue.

Inherent timelines

  • Description: Research timelines may constrain potential decision makers. For example, certain state legislatures only meet during certain months of the year, and university regents only have a few meetings each year.
  • Outcome: A calendar will help you plan when you can make the most impact.

Potential allies & opposition

  • Description: Research organizations and people among the stakeholders could be allies and/or roadblock your efforts. This list could include groups as diverse as unions, scientific societies, departments at local universities, parent-teacher associations, and others.
  • Outcome: A list of potential allies and opponents

Your representatives

  • Description: Your representatives, at different levels of government but also within your institution’s governance structure, can be your allies, even if they do not have direct oversight over the issue. Identify your city, county and state representatives. If it is relevant, identify the office of government relations of your institutions. If the issue you are taking on is internal to your institution, identify representatives with the governance committees of the institution, such as regents, faculty representatives, chairs and deans.
  • Outcome: A list of your representatives at various levels of government

Relationship to your representative's priorities

  • Description: Ask yourself how this issue relates to your representative's priorities. Use the list of topics you generated previously and find overlap with the priorities and concerns of your representative by reviewing their websites and statements.
  • Outcome: Links between your and your elected officials’ priorities

Issue description revision

Once you understand the issue at hand and the political realities of your locality, you might need to revise your issue description. This step encourages you to do so by taking some time to revise and edit the steps of the first iteration of the issue description, incorporating information learned through background research.

Communication strategy

With knowledge and prepared materials about your issue and your locality, the next step toward achieving advocacy success is sharing that knowledge and materials with the appropriate audiences. This section will guide you through the basics of preparing a strategy for that communication

Key background information: The motivation & issue

  • Description: Summarize the reason a solution is needed, including an overview of the issue that requires solving, in a paragraph (fewer than 200 words).
  • Outcome: A summary of the motivation for your solution and the issue it solves

The action you are requesting

  • Description: Summarize the particular solution to your issue that you have formulated in previous steps in a paragraph (fewer than 200 words).
  • Outcome: A summary of your proposed solution

Identify & collect personal stories

  • Description: Storytelling is effective in communicating a message. First, start with brainstorming your own stories on how this issue affects you and people you know. Second, contact people from allied groups and ask them to share a story about how the issue impacts them. Stories are the most effective way to communicate the human-scale impact of an issue. Select the most compelling two to three stories and summarize each one in its own paragraph.
  • Outcome: A collection of stories that will best represent the real impact of the issue you want to solve

Working with allies

Building a coalition and working with different organizations and people enables you to influence more decision makers, utilize resources and expertise you might not have, and provide benefits to those working toward similar goals.

Reach out to your identified allies by sending an email or phone call, if appropriate, with an invitation to collaborate. Be mindful that people might have more expertise and might have worked for years in this space. Use a respectful tone in your communications. You can consider sharing the materials you developed and solicit their thoughts.

Your goal is to bring together a group of allies to work together with on this issue. You can discuss with allies how to best message the issue and solutions. Additionally, you will have a list of decision makers and the actions they could take to address the issue that you are concerned about.

Potential next steps

From here, potential next steps could include coordinating with allies (and learning from them) to contact decision makers with one to two page summaries of:

  • The requested action
  • The issue/motivation
  • One to three stories of the impact that the issue is having on people

We want to emphasize the importance of short, clear documents that start with the requested action, then summarize the anchoring content. Decision makers and their staff have to process extremely large amounts of information, and they appreciate succinct, compelling and to-the-point materials

About APS Government Affairs

APS Government Affairs (GA) focuses on federal policy issues, engaging with policymakers and staff in Congress, at the White House, and throughout the executive branch agencies. APS GA does not engage on local-level issues (state, city, institution, etc). However, many of the techniques APS GA staff employ for direct advocacy at the federal level can also be used by individuals interested in engaging on local, state, and institutional policy issues. APS GA is happy to provide resources that APS members and staff can use to effectively advocate at any level.

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