The Strategic Advocacy Framework

The Strategic Advocacy Framework in outline form

Essay: “How to be a Strategic Advocate”

Overview

The ability to participate collaboratively and responsibly in our diverse society is one of the six expectations of an Evergreen graduate. All too often, the highly motivated student who decides to take action to address a grave social injustice or an environmental crisis reacts in a way that is predictably ineffective. There is a real danger that this kind of experience can cause our students and alumni to become frustrated and cynical.

One reason they flounder is that they do not know how to be strategic. Thinking strategically is a skill, one that best advocates develop through a process of trial and error, in part because opportunities to learn about it through training or academic instruction are very rare.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”—Sun Tzu

Through our careers, we (Ben, Roger and Ted) have been involved in advocacy in a variety of roles: professional advocate, nonprofit executive, activist, trainer, researcher and teacher. We have created national organizations and local non-profits; lobbied Congress, state legislatures and town councils; filed lawsuits in state and federal court; investigated grassroots efforts for wildlands conservation; and enjoyed stints as regulars on the TV-talk show circuit and advisors to public officials. Through this, we’ve noticed that successful advocates generally have a set of skills and habits that they learn through experience to systematically assess their situation and weigh their options before acting.

We believe these skills are teachable, and that budding advocates will move up the learning curve more swiftly if they have an organized, systematic way of assessing and developing strategies in practice.   The Strategic Advocacy Framework is a tool we have developed with the following learning objectives in mind:

Students will learn–

  1. That policy-making is a structured process, occurring in systems, which can be influenced by advocates;
  2. To analyze an advocacy opportunity with the same rigor they apply to the substantive issues they work on;
  3. That the Framework is applicable on different issues and in different contexts;
  4. To separate the feelings of passion that motivate them from the analytical process needed to make good decisions on what to do;
  5. To see a situation through the eyes of other participants, including “opponents,” and to understand why it is important for an advocate to do so.

Our approach to using the Framework is to use case studies, experiential opportunities and a spiral theory of learning.

At Vanderbilt Law School we offer a two-hour course meeting once a week. We introduce the entire Framework in summary form in the first class, and then use 9 – 10 different case studies, each of which goes into greater detail on one or more elements of the Framework. To make the learning process more experiential we often divide the class into groups that meet separately in the first hour of class to prepare for a debate or presentation to their peers in the second hour. Also, the final assignment is for students to write a memorandum making suggestions to a professional advocate who is working on an issue they feel strongly about.

At Evergreen this past year we covered the Framework and its application in two classroom sessions; the final paper requirement, which had previously covered an environmental problem and a proposed solution was modified to include an advocacy strategy to gain acceptance of their solution.

We’ve seen good results using the framework both at Evergreen and at Vanderbilt, but it is still very much a work in progress, so critique and suggestions are very welcome.

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Main Elements of the Framework:

  1. What’s the Situation?
  2. What is our existing Strategy?
  3. What are likely future Scenarios
  4. Revise our Situation assessment and our Strategy

 

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