ADVOCACY TIPS FOR GETTING THE SUPPORT OF OPINION LEADERS AND POLICYMAKERSA dvocacy takes place any time opinions are Make a personal connection. Let the opinion leader shared. The most effective advocacy efforts deter- know about friends, relatives and colleagues in common. mine which policymakers or opinion leaders A personal connection may make the difference in theshould be convinced to support the issue and offers effectiveness of the visit. Leaders are often more likely toexactly what they should do to show their support. remember and think favorably about a visit that had some Use these tips when seeking their support. personal connection to them. Set goals and objectives. The goal should be a broad Be an information source. Some opinion leaders havestatement that provides a vision of the advocacy efforts’ so much to think about that they cannot focus too longanticipated accomplishments. Objectives should have a on any one issue. They may not be as informed as theyclear time frame, and be measurable and realistic. would like to be, so fill the information gap. Encourage Target efforts. Assess which opinion leaders’ agreement leaders to ask questions about the issue. Do not implyand support will be necessary for the advocacy campaign that the leader is not intelligent or knowledgeable.to reach its goals. Decide whom to approach and in what Instead, be helpful and informed.order. Start with people who are very supportive and Tell the truth. There is no faster way to lose credibili-move on to those who are somewhat supportive or unde- ty than to give false or misleading information to ancided in their views. Be sensitive to any opinion leaders opinion leader.who should be approached very early in the campaign. Know who else supports the issue. Opinion leaders Be gracious and respectful. Always begin by thanking like to know which other leaders and organizations sup-the opinion leader for his or her time. Opinion leaders port the position. Providing this information illustrateswho support adolescent reproductive health may be tak- support and may provide the opinion leader with addi-ing a controversial and difficult position in the communi- tional reasons to support the position. When possible,ty. Sincere thanks will be greatly appreciated. bring community members—including young people—on Be professional. Be professional in both dress and visits to leaders.manner. Avoid criticizing other leaders, public figures, or Know who disagrees with the issue. The opinionorganizations. leader may be faced with a difficult decision if another Be focused. Talk only about one subject in the visit or powerful institution or individual opposes the issue.letter. Advocates frequently feel they have to share as Anticipate who the opposition will be and what theirmuch information as possible with a leader, but too much positions are. Discuss with the opinion leader the poten-information will only confuse the message and dilute the tial arguments of the opposition, and why the leaderpoint, especially if the opinion leader’s time is limited. should not support that position. When there is opposi- Be prepared. As a part of preparation, try to determine tion, the ability to anticipate criticism and defend thethe opinion leader’s position on the issue. The position issue will make a difference.can be discerned through comments he or she has made, Acknowledge when more information is needed. Ifthe kind of events the leader attends, his/her political affil- an opinion leader wants information that is not avail-iation, and past policy decisions. Working within a net- able, or asks something not known, admit a lack ofwork helps with this research, because at least one organ- knowledge. Then, offer to get the information he or sheization will be likely to have had some contact with the is looking for and do so as quickly as possible after theopinion leader. Explore the opinion leader’s personal con- meeting.nections with youth: is he or she a parent, uncle, aunt, or Make a specific request. Walk in knowing exactlygrandparent of adolescents? Design a persuasive what the opinion leader will be asked to do in supportapproach that is based on knowledge about the leader’s of the issue. For example, advocates might request thatfollowers, views, background, and interests. Differentarguments compel and move different people. Role play- Adapted from: A. Penn, Advocating for Adolescenting what to say at the meeting and how to respond to Reproductive Health in Eastern Europe and Central Asiapossible comments will help in preparations. (Washington, DC: Advocates for Youth, 2004).
the leader put his or her name on a letter, change a any supportive actions. Politely ask for an explanation if heschool policy, answer a question, make a public or she has failed to follow up on promises.endorsement, or support increased funding for youth Do not create enemies. It is easy to get emotional overprograms. Ask directly and attempt to get a direct strongly felt issues. Be sure to leave the relationship withanswer. the opinion leader on good terms to permit working with Follow up. Find out if the opinion leader did what he or him or her again. Do not argue heatedly, and nevershe committed to doing. Send a letter of thanks after the threaten a leader. Even if he or she opposes this issue, theconversation, and restate the position. Thank the leader for opinion leader could be a strong supporter on another! STRENGTHEN ADVOCACY EFFORTS BY WORKING WITH YOUNG PEOPLEMany NGOs seek to involve young people in the design, s It may take time and effort to get young people to par-implementation, and evaluation of youth-serving pro- ticipate fully in the network. Work to help young peo-grams. Youth involvement provides the organization with ple feel comfortable. Do not assume that, if a youngvaluable insight into the needs of adolescents. person is not speaking, that he or she has no opinion. Youth involvement is equally important in the develop- Ask youth to contribute during meetings and discus-ment and implementation of an advocacy campaign. sions. Be open and nonjudgmental about young peo-Young people can provide accurate insights into the effects ple’s insights and suggestions. Let them know that theirof various policies, or lack of policies, on their peers, and involvement is important and valued.can help an advocacy network better define its goals, s Provide training and mentorship to build the skillsobjectives, and strategies. The presence of youth in all net- and confidence of young people. Young people maywork events and activities serves as a reminder of the need information about adolescent health, the politi-issues which bring the members together. cal situation, or reproductive health programs. Young However, youth involvement is more than just young people may also need training to become effectivepeople being present at a meeting or serving as spokes- communicators and to feel comfortable speakingpeople. Young people should play as important roles in with the media or with policymakers.the network as do adult members, and they should partici- s Obtain agreement of all network members thatpate in decisionmaking, planning, and implementation of young people are equals. Youth should participate asactivities. much as possible in the decision making and should Here are tips for working with young people and have the right to vote and hold leadership positions.involving them meaningfully in advocacy efforts. s Use the expertise of youth. Do not discredit youngs If the network or organization does not have direct people’s contributions as “idealistic.” Young people access to adolescents, contact other youth serving are much more likely to contribute when their con- organizations in the community. Invite young people tributions are taken seriously. who work with those programs to come and speak s Be realistic in setting expectations. Some adults may informally about their efforts. be frustrated by the time and effort needed to inte-s Discuss youth involvement with other organizations grate young people fully into the network. Be honest and identify those which are successful at involving about your expectations for the project, the young youth in their activities. Seek information and materials people’s contributions, and the network’s benefit that will encourage youth involvement in the advocacy from youth participation. Trying to do too much at campaign. once may disappoint or frustrate everyone.s Find locations and times for meetings that are s Be prepared to offer support. Consider what is need- acceptable for both young people and adults. Young ed to involve a broad variety of community mem- people, too, should be kept informed about plans bers, including youth, in the project. Support may and meeting times. include financial assistance, transportation, training,s Begin with activities that will help build communica- and information. tion between youth and adults. Young people may s Make the work interactive and fun. Like adults, need time to become comfortable before speaking up young people are more likely to become and remain in front of adults. Adults may also need to examine active in projects that are interesting and fulfilling. their beliefs about adolescents and adolescent sexuality s Do not make assumptions about any individuals, before they are prepared to listen to young people’s including youth. opinions on the topic.PopulationReference Bureau