Know the Issue

The secret to successful advocacy is no secret…it is the ability to identify an issue, understand it and expertly communicate it to others.

There may be many issues on their agenda, but according to the Center for Community Change, organizations should focus on issues that: affect the organization and its community in a tangible way; fit the organization’s mandate; are specific and winnable; and are a stretch for the organization, allowing it to do things it hasn’t done before.

Once you know your issue, develop your position in a clear and consistent way. Generating consensus on the organization’s position may be difficult, but necessary. Once an organization wades into its advocacy efforts, it does not want to be derailed by those from its own membership. Ideally, the organization will create a position paper, or briefing note, that includes the background, the rationale and key statements that can be made by spokespeople on the position. Be specific about the change that is needed.

Solid research is necessary for each issue supported to ensure that information materials supplied to decision-makers and the public are based on strong, honest arguments for the cause. Quality research takes time to develop and form into the support needed for handling any type of public policy issue. There are many tools that are available to anyone else interested in learning how to conduct effective legislative research. Some of these tools include general web search engines, email alert services, blogs, transcripts and newswires.

Also learn to anticipate criticism and scrutiny and how to handle it. Take into consideration conflicting views and what could be potentially said about the information you prepare to present. To prepare for this high degree of scrutiny, learn to critique your own work. Consider the weak points and aspects of your perspective that might be incomplete. Ask whether there are any biases in your information. Factor in whether there are any survey results that could be statistically important. Finally, consider whether your information is dated and whether there is other information that might be more credible or current.

You also want to have a solid understanding of the opposition. No position or issue is completely researched until you have fully researched the opposition and the arguments they are likely to make. Take the time to track and check the arguments of your opponents regularly through the use of such resources as daily press updates, web pages, print publications, lobbying reports and publication distribution lists. The more you know about your opposition, the better prepared you will be to face scrutiny of your issue and be prepared to defend it.


Identifying who the audience is that will be receiving you advocacy pitch and knowing a little something about them can help you tailor your message and perhaps be more successful. By doing a little advance research (all politician biographies are available on the internet) and asking questions you will be better positioned to open a constructive dialogue.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Keep informed about major political issues so you know the context for government decisions and what may be impacting them.
  • Try to understand the perspective of the person you are meeting with. This will help you shape your ask. For example, if they have particular policy interests, find ways to connect your issue to their interests.
  • Remember that politicians want to be re-elected - frame your issues with this in mind. Positions that represent a win for both your cause and the decision-maker you are advocating to, are the best.
  • Look for people within your circle of family, friends or colleagues who have established relationships with the people you need to see and may be willing to make introductions for you.


As outlined, there are a number of ways to advocate for your issues including letters to politicians, petitions, attending meetings and writing to your local newspaper. Different situations will require different actions. But you should consider of these factors:

  • How urgent is my issue? Can it wait for a sit down meeting with your MP/MLA, or do you require an answer now, in which case you should call or write their office.
  • Is your issue unique to your organization, or is it something affecting others in your community you could advocate together?
  • Who is best positioned to secure the change you seek? Your local representative or a cabinet Minister?
  • What else is going on politically? Is there an election taking place whereby you could ask all candidates for their thoughts on your issue?
  • Can your issue be resolved easily with a simple overview from you, or is it more complex and will therefore require more than one outreach to more than one person?

Other links:

Advocacy. Centre for ADHD Awareness, 2014.

Participatory Advocacy: A Guide for Small and Diaspora NGOs to VSO's Participatory Advocacy Toolkit, Intrac for Civil Society, 2012

Lobbying and Advocacy: Winning Strategies, recommendations, resources, ethics, and compliance for lobbyists, Deanna Gelak, The, 2008.

Advocacy VS Lobbying: Understanding the Difference,, 2016.