Advocacy work can be all-consuming—there’s always more to be done. The work is inherently complex, the systems involved are not always well-understood, and solutions have to be adaptive to the changing environment in which they are implemented.
All good advocacy plans come from a deep understanding of the environment and political economy to which they are responding. The objectives and outcomes we set for ourselves are only as good as the information we have in front of us when we develop them. The issue isn’t necessarily that our understanding is misinformed or incorrect, it’s more likely that it’s incomplete. Our understanding of the environment and political economy can never be complete. Even if we were to map the entire political economy, the moment we finished, the map would be out of date. It can be challenging to choose the right target, and to know the impact we are having, in such a dynamic environment.
Much of the complexity in these systems can be attributed to the medium through which we create change. Our stakeholders are at the centre of our work, whether it’s getting a political party to add a bullet to their platform or getting a religious organization to make a formal statement. A lot of time and energy is spent, working with partners, on changing particular stakeholders’ attitudes toward a specific policy priority. It’s important to recognize, then, that people are complex and ever-changing. A particular group that we perceive to be hostile one day, might say a particular thing or take a particular action the next day that suggests they might be more friendly than we initially thought.
The way we plan hasn’t kept up with the complexity of the problems to which we are responding.
Traditional advocacy planning relies on a waterfall design process. This stepwise approach to design means we move through the phases of advocacy one at a time. Starting with gathering information about the problem, developing a plan, implementing our plan, and measuring our impact. This non-iterative approach to the design of change does not adequately respond to the dynamic environments in which we are working.
We need a new, iterative approach, which responds to the needs of our stakeholders and the broader environment and is capable of keeping up with a dynamic, complex system. We need an approach that recognizes the balance between the need for strategy and direction and the need for nimbleness and responsiveness. This is the intersection of design thinking meets policy advocacy.
Brock Hart Co-CEO
Adept at bringing people together around big ideas, Brock is a visionary thinker and an extraordinary facilitator. Brock leads the Transformation Design group at Overlap, guiding the team to deliver our work with excellence across projects, programs and sectors. Get to know Brock, see some of his work and engage with his ideas here.