Lobby and advocacy campaigns - The Basics

Using lobby and advocacy campaigns to increase the impact of peacebuilding

Are you working on peacebuilding and conflict transformation? Are you active in a highly complex environment? Do you often have the feeling that the power balance is not in your favour? That much of your direct peacebuilding and conflict transformation work is barely scratching the surface when it comes to influencing the underlying dynamics? If that is the case then you could benefit from a lobby and advocacy campaign complementing your peacebuilding and conflict transformation work.


What is a lobby and advocacy campaign?

I know people use the terms campaigning, lobby and advocacy in their very own ways. There are numerous definitions around and people have different understandings of the underlying concepts. And I must admit I am not too worried about the exact terminology. Instead of concentrating on the nuances of various definitions, let me briefly explain how I use these terms, how I understand the underlying concepts and how in my understanding the three - campaign, lobby and advocacy - relate to each other.


Let‘s first look at the term campaign. Generally speaking, for me a campaign is a way to address the social, the political and /or the economic realities in a given situation. Very often these are realities which are beyond our direct influence. We might be affected by them but we are not in a position to change them immediately and by ourselves. In order to address these realities we always have a range of options to chose from. Combining various of these options into a - hopefully - strategic and coherent process is what I call a campaign.


Good, so much for the term campaign. Now let me talk about how I understand the two terms lobby and advocacy. It seems that these terms often come as a pair; a bit like - here in my Western culture - Laurel and Hardy, Fish and Chips, Batman and Robin or Macaroni and Cheese. I guess you find similar pairs all over the word and in all cultural settings. I often have the feeling many people actually use the terms lobby and advocacy synonymously. And while there are similarities and things they have in common, the two underlying concepts are not identical.


The one thing they have in common though is that they both argue in favour of a cause or an idea. Like ending the use of land mines, eradicating polio, increasing the minimum wage or reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, just to name a few. Advocacy is a general term covering work for a cause or an idea that can take many different forms. From sit-ins to street theatre, from going on strike to mass protest, from running your own radio soap-opera to podium discussion, to name just a few of the many options.


Lobbying has a narrower focus. It is usually understood as influencing a policy maker, a politician, a civil servant or company representative on certain issues. Often lobbying explicitly asks for new policies, for changes in existing policies or for changes in the application of existing policies. So in many ways lobbying can be seen as one specific form of the broader advocacy work.



So much for the three main terms. Let’s now have a closer look at why a lobby and advocacy campaign might be a powerful way to complement and strengthen your peacebuilding and conflict transformation efforts. Let me point out four aspects why a lobby and advocacy campaign can be a good fit to support hands-on peacebuilding work. 



Campaigns are strategic in nature

Just as any hands-on peacebuilding and conflict transformation work, a lobby and advocacy campaign is always a process. It’s never just a one-off event like a single protest march, a one-off meeting with a policy maker, a single information event and the like.


A campaign - just as any other peacebuilding intervention - needs to be based on a sound and up-to-date analysis of the situation. It needs to be based in a realistic assessment of possible ways to influence the underlying dynamics that sustain the conflict. We have discussed the importance of a sound analysis and the need to work strategically as key parts of any peacebuilding and conflict transformation work on this blog before (read more conflict analysis here and on strategy development here).



Successful campaigns work with very clear campaign goals, spelling out specific, realistic and actionable demands with a significant relevance to key driving factors in a given conflict situation. Successful campaigns fully understand the decision-making process that relates to the respective campaign goal. They have a good assessment of the decision makers involved in these processes. And they know which influences these decision-makers are likely to give in to.



Campaigns address power imbalances

Peacebuilders are often active in difficult situations working on highly complex issues. In many instances they are faced by opponents with access to almost unlimited resources, who do not shy away from the use of violence, who have the power to formulate policies and dictate how they are implemented, who dominate the media and the like. Working in such an environment can be anything from intimidating to outright dangerous.



A lobby and advocacy campaign can help to shift the power balance, especially when it is highly focused and when resources are concentrated and are not spread too thin. Successful campaigns often manage to shape public opinion and create a conducive environment for social change. By working in powerful alliances an a local, national and international level campaign organisers often manage to gain a reputation as knowledgeable, reliable and trustworthy actors on specific issues. Successful campaigns are often value-led, allowing the people associated with the campaign to claim the moral high ground when working in an environment that is characterized by violence and injustices. Playing on these strengths, campaigns can be a powerful way to influence power imbalances and change the playing field in favor of peaccebuilding interventions (again we looked at the issue of power and violence and power and non-violence earlier on this blog (read more power and violence here and on power and non-violence here)).



Campaigns create broad support bases

Lobby and advocacy campaigns are a great way to involve large numbers of people. As they are incredibly adaptable not just to the respective situation you are working in but also to the specific skills and interests people bring along. No matter if you have the possibility to give all of your time to a campaign or if you can allocate only a few hours each month; no matter if you prefer to be active behind the scenes preparing campaign materials or if you feel confident and thrive in public and when addressing large gatherings; no matter if you have a special skill in being highly strategic in everything you do or if you prefer to develop creative and engaging mass action for people of all background - there is place for every one in a campaign. There is a chance to welcome and appreciate a wide range of talents and put them to work on a jointly defined goal to improve a given situation. This helps to build a broad support base and root your peacebuilding and conflict transformation work in the wider society. Many of the most successful campaigns in history turned into powerful movements.



Campaigns work towards sustainable solutions

Lobby and advocacy campaigns are generally less interested in quick fixes and short-term wins but aim at mid- to long-term changes and sustainable solutions. This sets campaigns apart from one-off protest and approaches that build momentum around the use of violence.


This interest in sustainable solutions to highly complex social issues is reflected in the constructive engagement that is chosen by the people running the campaigns when engaging their opponents. What do I mean by constructive engagement? Well, in my eyes this concept boils down to following main aspects.


First and foremost there is the issue of genuinely wanting to find a solution to the problem that is assessed, to the conflict we are involved in or the social justice issue that is discussed. Having a genuine interest in finding a way forward asks for being willing to listen to all parties involved, trying to understand their point of view, their interest in an issue and their ideas of how best to handle it. While this might be easy with people we generally have a good relationship with, this can be a pretty challenging task when engaging with people who hold a completely different world view to ours, who act based on completely different values or whose attitude and behaviour we find appalling.


Another important aspect of constructive engagement is the willingness to compromise, even when this is hard and demanding. If we approach a dispute in the belief that all our demands will be met, we are very unlikely to constructively engage with others who have an interest in the issue; we are very unlikely to fully explore all the options available of how to address the issue; and we are very unlikely to find a way forward that is sustainable in the long run.


Constructive engagement also means to engage in a process, committing the necessary resources and putting in the necessary work that such processes require.


While constructive engagement asks for flexibility, it does not mean to shy away from open disagreement, confrontation and conflict (which is not the same as violence). It does not mean to give up on the values underpinning our work. And it does not mean that we agree to any deal on offer.



Where can I learn more?

In our next part of the mini series on lobby and advocacy, we will focus on key steps that make up a success lobby and advocacy campaign. Starting from the initial analysis of the situation over spelling out a clear campaign goal, drafting the strategy and preparing the campaign materials to implementing the actual campaign and evaluating the results - I will talk you through a tested step-by-step process to develop a successful lobby and advocacy campiagn. 



Post by Bjoern Eser from The Peacebuilding Practitioner.