10 Steps to Consider in Launching an Advocacy Campaign
With illegal garbage burning contributing to poor air quality in the city of Bangalore, Jhatkaa.org, a grassroots organization working to build citizen power across India, launched the #BangaloreIsBurning campaign. Over several months, the digital campaign raised public awareness of the issue, encouraging residents to sign a petition calling for immediate government action. When the petition, with over 3,400 signatures, was presented to city officials, they agreed to step up enforcement of the waste-burning ban. What’s more, they asked for Jhatkaa’s help in mobilizing citizens to submit photos of illegal burning, via WhatsApp, to alert authorities of violations.
This is what grassroots-up change looks like.
Jhatkaa.org, founded by Laureate Global Fellow Deepa Gupta, seeks to foster a stronger democracy in India through mobilizing its citizens to take action on issues they care about. Deepa is one of 1,500 young social entrepreneurs identified and supported by YouthActionNet in 90 countries.
Translated from Hindi, Jhatkaa means to shake up or jolt. Over three years, Jhatkaa.org has created a membership base of over 300,000 committed citizens who are poised to take action—online and on the ground—on a host of issues from protecting minority rights to increasing corporate accountability, from promoting net neutrality to preserving the environment.
The Bangalore is Burning campaign is just one of many Jhatkaa victories. When a campaign succeeds, “it’s often because the timing is right and the language we’re using is really right,” says Deepa, who shares below ten key steps to consider in launching an effective campaign.
1. Do your homework. Begin by learning as much as you can about the issue you’re advocating for or against. Talk to relevant stakeholders. What would a short- and long-term solution look like? Identify the audiences you need to mobilize to take action.
2. Consider the timing of your campaign. If an issue is currently dominating the public discourse or media headlines, you have a better chance of mobilizing citizens to act. “There’s a sweet spot when crisis and opportunity come together,” says Deepa.
3. Identify the organizations, and the people within those organizations, who are in a position to move your issue. In the advocacy world, this is known as “power mapping,” says Deepa. Learn what makes a given individual, whether they’re a politician or corporate CEO, ‘tick.’ What do they care about? What would it take to change their perception of an issue?
4. Take stock of the resources at your disposal. These could include funding, networks, knowledge, skills, and/or influence. That said, when it comes to engaging people to take action, it’s important to value their time and contributions and refrain from making too many asks. “It’s a mutual relationship,” says Deepa of Jhatkaa’s growing membership base. “We serve the people we’re mobilizing; they’re our friends.”
5. Chart what success would look like. Set goals that can be achieved in the foreseeable future. Your goals should be SMART (e.g., Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic, Time based). If you were to succeed, how would people think and behave differently? What is the measurable outcome you seek to achieve (e.g., a 50 percent reduction in garbage burning)? Being able to measure success is critical for funders and motivating staff. “A lot of politicians promise big, lofty goals,” cautions Deepa. “Articulating short-term, specific solutions helps people to see how change happens.”
6. Create a critical path. Look at what you want to achieve and work backwards, plotting all the steps needed to get there. Often campaigners fail because they neglect to take into consideration the complexity—and the amount of time needed—to reach their ultimate goal, says Deepa, giving the example of a major river cleanup which could take years to fully achieve. In such cases, it’s important to build in milestones that allow for the celebration of incremental victories. That way, people stay engaged and you continue to build momentum.
7. Determine the best tactics given your goals, audience, and budget. These could include a petition, SMS calls to action, social media outreach, boycotts, traditional media outreach, non-violent protests, and more. “Half of our campaigns have been won with a petition and a few hundred signatures,” says Deepa. Also important is finding staff and volunteers who have the skillsets (e.g., technology, writing, videography) that you need. “I’m not a greater writer and I don’t have a digital brain,” Deepa confesses. “But I’m good at making friends and networking.”
Prior to employing tactics, consider whether it makes sense to talk to the person you’ve identified as a key decision-maker to try and influence his or her thinking. Since that person is less likely to meet with someone they perceive as a threat, consider sending a surrogate to advocate on your behalf, says Deepa, adding, “It’s important to look for common values and beliefs—such as concern for children’s welfare—as you make your case.”
8. Develop a budget. Based on your goals and tactics, determine the resources you need, factoring in pro bono and in-kind support where possible. Online crowdfunding offers a powerful tool for generating contributions.
9. Craft memorable messages. Word craft is essential to an effective campaign, says Deepa, adding that Jhatkaa benefits from having staff who write well and can distill complex ideas into a compelling narrative.
10. Measure and evaluate progress. Based on the goals you’ve set, determine how and when you plan to evaluate progress. It’s important to build in touch points to determine if course corrections are needed.
The above steps offer a basic framework for what is a creative process demanding both strategic thinking and flexibility. While an increasing number of low-cost and free tools (e.g., online crowdfunding and petitions) exist, developing and executing an effective campaign strategy requires specific knowledge and skillsets. It’s best to start small, advises Deepa, and/or partner with another organization(s) to share responsibilities and leverage resources.