The word advocacy has its origins in law and is defined by most dictionaries as the process of speaking on behalf of someone. Today it has evolved to include work undertaken by development agencies, civil society groups, and individuals to bring about positive change. Advocacy encompasses raising the awareness of the public (often about a particular issue), creation or reform of policies, but also effective implementation and enforcement of policies.
For example, one could advocate for increased community rights and involvement in a government’s policy on water supply and sanitation services. In instances where such government policies exist but are not implemented, advocacy again plays an important role – by inducing a government to change policy. Processes of change such as these are effective from the community level through to national and international ones.
The local level is perhaps the most important for advocacy. Individual and community investment in issues dear to them is the seed from which change begins; it is this desire for change, focused through advocacy, that can redress the policies and practices that perpetuate poverty and inequitable access to water and sanitation.
From: Advocacy Sourcebook. A Guide to Advocacy for WSSCC Co-ordinators Working on the WASH Campaign. London, WaterAid/WSSCC, 2003.
Some definitions of advocacy
"Advocacy means taking action to bring about the change you are seeking. Therefore, advocacy must necessarily take place in a particular context, and be aimed at a particular target." (The Advocacy Sourcebook, p 11)
"Advocacy is the deliberate process of influencing those who make policy decisions." (Advocacy Tools and Guidelines. Promoting Policy Change, p 2)
"Advocacy is putting a problem on the agenda, providing a solution to that problem and building support for acting on both the problem and solution." (An Introduction to Advocacy. Training Guide, p 4)
"Advocacy means pleading for, or supporting, a cause." (Advocacy Manual for Gender & Water Ambassadors, p 14)
"Advocacy is the action of delivering an argument to gain commitment from political and social leaders and to prepare a society for a particular issue." (Advocacy for Water, Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene. Thematic Overview Paper, p 4)
"Advocacy is simply the process of influencing people to create change. Its lifeblood is good strategic communications – educating people about a need and mobilizing them to meet it." (Stop the Global Epidemic of Chronic Disease: A Practical Guide to Successful Advocacy, p 16)
"Put simply, advocacy means fighting for our rights." (Advocacy and Campaigning Course Toolkit, p 6)
"Advocacy is the process of managing information and knowledge strategically to change and/or influence policies and practices that affect the lives of people (particularly the disadvantaged)." (Advocacy Sourcebook. A Guide to Advocacy for WSSCC Co-ordinators Working on the WASH Campaign, p 1)