Advocacy – the sum of our work

This year Social Platform is organising a series of networking lunches for our members on effective advocacy, to which we will invite NGO networks in other sectors, social partners and representatives of the EU institutions to exchange good practices, share experiences and develop more effective and innovative approaches to advocacy. This week we had our first meeting, and we were joined by Pieter Depous, Policy Director at the European Environmental Bureau, and Deirdre De Burca, Head of Advocacy at World Vision.

While advocacy is an integral part of our multi-annual strategic frameworks and annual work programmes, few of us have specific internal documents outlining our advocacy work. My colleagues and I recently discussed this and wanted to hear others’ experiences. Our meeting with members led to a very interesting conversation where we identified many common challenges.

Measuring impact. Although it is important to justify to donors and members our advocacy work in terms of spending and resources, it is difficult to measure impact – especially as influencing European policy processes can take several years. Taking time to develop milestones, indicators and impact assessment tools are helpful ways of monitoring and evaluating success. We also need to make sure we have enough time for both monitoring and assessment, on top of carrying out the work itself!

Having the right focus. We should be mindful not to spend too much time talking among ourselves, developing and fine-tuning our position papers. Managing our alliances may distract us from paying attention to what is going around us. We have first-hand experience of this; while we were busy developing our cross-sectoral civil society ‘Spring Alliance Manifesto’ for the new European Commission in 2014, President Juncker was occupied with setting his priorities and putting together his college of Commissioners – this was a process we should have paid more attention to.

Engaging at national level. Many participants in our meeting shared challenges of engaging at national level and influencing public opinion. Some had good experiences of providing their members with template letters to send to ministers ahead of an EU decision, while others struggled with involving members as they are already busy with national matters. Even if national members do engage, it is unfortunately often a case of ‘too little, too late’. Conflicting interests between members might also lead to weakening positions and jeopardising our level of impact. Social Platform will continue discussing this crucial topic when our members meet at our General Assembly on 21 April.

Other points raised were the added value of inviting experts to meetings with decision-makers to provide in-depth evidence as well as real life testimonies. Media and campaigning were mentioned as additional advocacy components to apply pressure on decision-makers and engage the general public. Another question focused on using United Nations standards as leverage; while it might resonate with EU decision-makers to refer to Member States’ UN obligations, it can be perceived by ordinary people as distancing them even further from the EU than they already feel.

Many thanks to our members that joined – we will stay in touch and continue our exchange!