For quality and participative youth policy it is important to ensure that the state’s youth policy should represent not only the institutional perspective, but also should fulfil the needs of the young people. This could be pursued by ensuring evidence-based youth policy development, through consultation; taking into account the views of young people, and addressing the issues that concern them. However, it is very important for young people and youth organizations to properly express their views and opinion, as well as their proposals to deal with issues relevant to youth. Therefore, youth interest representation should be important to both young people and governmental institutions, in order to enable young people to act and make their opinion count.
There are numerous definitions of interest, representation and advocacy. But most important is to understand that advocacy is an ongoing, structured, well-planned process that attempts to change public policies in one way or another, seeking a positive change in society. The goal of advocacy is that the interests of one group should be protected and the problem should be solved in the most suitable manner for that group. Youth can represent their interests through youth organizations, councils, multi-stakeholder meetings and… advocacy campaigns.
To make a campaign effective, it is crucial to plan properly and in detail. Here we present a 10- step plan that could help to create a clear youth advocacy strategy. It will list the core activities, which need to be accomplished in order to ensure the success of your campaign. In order to understand this plan better, for this analysis we will use a specific example. Assume that a youth organization is seeking to encourage the municipal administration to increase funding for the initiatives of youth organizations in their region (city).
Firstly you have to identify the problem or issue that the advocacy campaign will be addressing. It is essential to choose the problem which you can clearly address, and have the required knowledge how to tackle, and demonstrate how solving this issue would have an impact. Choose an issue that is the most relevant to you and to which you could allocate sufficient time. Try to analyse the problem and understand it, and make sure that everyone in your work group is on the same page. In our chosen example, the issue is clear – limited financial support for youth organizations. Yet it is still necessary to conduct a situation analysis of by what means, and by how much, such a youth incentive could receive financial support; and have a clear understanding what kind of financial support youth organizations require. At this stage you should also start building arguments, which would support your request for increased financial support.
For your advocacy campaign you should set short-term and long-term goals and objectives and make sure they are precise and measurable. If your main objective of the campaign is increased youth organization funding from the municipality, do not limit your objectives, and try to change the rules on financing, networking building and specific performance indicators. Do not forget that financial support is a sensitive question and it could take time before you reach agreement with the municipality. Therefore, we would suggest to set small targets, for example that the municipal financial support should increase by 20 per cent in the first year, 30 per cent in the second. Set objectives which you can measure both quantitatively and qualitatively, otherwise you will not be able to identify your achievements at the end of the campaign.
After the first two actions you should identify the target audience- specific politicians or institutions with which you need to engage or cooperate in order to reach your objectives. In this case your target audience could be the City Mayor, or Administration Director of the municipality, the municipal council, the youth coordinator, or certain departments within the municipality such as youth, education, finance, etc. You should identify who is the decision maker, who can support your cause or even who would oppose to your cause.
Formulate your key message and make sure that it can be easily understood by your target audience. Formulate your ideas in such a manner that there would be no questions asked such as why, when and what are your objectives. For example, in order to attract more young people to the activities of youth organizations, it is necessary to increase financial support provided to youth organizations for the next financial year, because current resources are not sufficient to include all the young people who want to take part in the activities of youth organizations.
Selection of communication channels is also important as you have to choose those that can effectively deliver the message to your target audience – politicians and other institutions. There are many options to choose from: publication in regional newspaper or regional news portal, conferences, printed leaflets, posters, meetings, protests, etc. You could also organize a meeting with representatives of the municipality, and the municipality’s youth affairs council, to discuss the current situation. Furthermore, you can utilize local radio stations where you could organize a discussion with the radio host and reveal the current challenges that the young people are facing and also the needs of the youth. Therefore, there are many ways you could disseminate your message, but you should be selective in choosing the means as you need to reach your target audience and the public. Thus be considerate and if the municipal council members are not active users of social media, or they tend not to be exposed to public, try to deliver your message to them with other, less revealing means.
Other potential partners could also provide support as well as the public groups or NGOs. In trying to secure increased financial support, you could get assistance from other youth organizations or community councils. Besides, your idea could be supported by organizations which focus on parental activities, as essentially your youth organization is doing activities with their youngsters. Also, do not ignore other youth-friendly organizations. Therefore, when you communicate your message through your channels do not forget that your potential partners can improve your position in your municipality. In many cases you should be able to mobilize the society, collect signatures on a petition or on a letter to the municipality.
In order to maximize the coverage of the campaign, it is important to keep in mind the search for funding and other resources. Financial support is not always a necessity when conducting a campaign, however, if you believe that finances are crucial to make your idea happen, you could search for potential partners within the business sector or within the funds that tend to support NGOs. Often it is the case that organizations are able to run their campaigns without financial resources, but with other types of support/ resources provided by partners from the municipality.
(Only) After planning comes implementation of an advocacy campaign. Be consistent and patient, the process may take some time, sometimes years. Therefore, it is important to stick to the plan during the process; obviously if there is a need you can amend according to the changing situation. However, you should not abandon well-structured and consistent work when trying to reach your objectives. Yet it could be the case that during implementation of your plan you will find that the funding that you seek is unrealistic. In this case, you should cut the desired size of the budget, but do not abandon the original idea and the work that you have already put into it.
Finally, you should collect information relevant to your issue or problem throughout the duration of the campaign, especially about the current state of the problem and the forecast. If there is a necessity, you should consider conducting an analysis of the current situation. In trying to realize your objectives, you should know the actual situation and predict the potential result after the implementation of your proposed idea. The representatives of municipalities will definitely question why you need increased financial support, therefore you should prepare and find out information such as where youth organizations tend to spend the funding provided by municipalities, how much do they spend, which activities or organizations lack the most financial support, and also identify what is the actual financing needs of organizations. Try to quantify the benefit, both quantitative and qualitative, that the municipalities would get from increased financing of youth organizations. Besides trying to keep close relations with municipal institutions, inform them about the changes that were made once the funding is increased.
Not to forget you should constantly monitor and evaluate the process. Even before you begin the advocacy campaign you should decide how will you evaluate and measure the implementation. Pay attention to crucial things such as how your idea will impact the lives of a certain youth segment. What positive impact will be created by your campaign? Is it realistic that your idea can impact or change the established policies (funding, points of view, etc.)? This will allow you to not only avoid your own mistakes, but also see other things that could unintentionally occur.
There is no wrong time to start a campaign, yet you should take the context into account. However, it is useless to expect that you will receive an increase in finance when there are only a few weeks for budget confirmation left. Festive periods, summer holidays, periods before elections or ballots will take place is known for stagnation, hence all these periods could impede the desired pace of implementation of your ideas. Thus, it is advisable to devote some time for campaign implementation, asses the risks, also set your campaign implementation timeline where you can list what to do and when to do it; this should help you visualize and make sure that you will do everything on time without unnecessary rush. It is also important to clearly set responsibilities in a team and to respond effectively if any changes are required in the composition of the team, time plan, a campaign plan and so on. Be flexible, but do not forget your objectives.
When seeking a faster reaction to your campaign you could actually take advantage of the period of elections, especially if it is municipal council or Parliament elections. Even though prior to elections period certain processes may stagnate, as some changes may be expected in institutions, during the time of the ballot you could actually benefit. When political parties are changing they are interested in close cooperation with their voters, therefore during the period prior to elections it is much easier to organize meetings with politicians and share your ideas.
Youth organization could utilize the pre-electoral period in many ways. You could conduct a public campaign analysing political programmes proposed by political parties and evaluate which party addresses the interests of young people the most or you could simply promote your main message and see if there are politicians or parties which would support your idea and you could connect with them. Besides, after the elections you could organize an informal group that would support young people and would include newly-elected Parliamentary or municipal council members.
You could reach a lot by representing your interests. However, this process takes a lot of effort and patience. The simpler, clearer and more structured the campaign plan, the easier it will be for organizations or groups of unorganized youth to achieve their own objectives. Yet there is the possibility that you will face difficulties, especially if your objective is a sensitive topic such as financial support; but it does not mean that when the political power changes it will right away have a positive or negative impact on your idea.
Chart 3 – Strategic communication models
Chart 4 – Steps of advocacy campaign
Chart 5 – Elements of an Advocacy