When to be a friendly insider vs a confrontational lobbyist

I’m back in bright sunny, but very cold London after a couple of weeks sweltering in Thailand and Cambodia. I’ve come back on a real high – it was such a pleasure and privilege to spend time meeting and learning from from VSO staff, volunteers and partner NGOs – suddenly it all makes so much more sense!

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The first week in Bangkok was spent running a training workshop with my fantastic VSO colleague Will, who thankfully unlike me is an expert in advocacy and campaigning. Our attendees were staff from VSO Country Offices from the Asia-Pacific region who have signed up to participate in VSO’s new global campaign on Women’s Participation and Influence in Decision-making. This great bunch of folk came from VSO offices in Thailand/Myanmar, Nepal, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Laos, Vanuatu, India and Bangladesh; it was eye-opening to learn about the range of issues they are seeking to influence….and also fascinating to hear the life stories that had brought them to be working in a VSO Country Office. Once again, I heard how the threat of violence can be a major obstacle to women’s participation in local or national government, and you realise just how brave women in some countries have to be to stand up to such threats.

I’m sure I learned as much if not more from the workshop than our participants, including being made to ponder if and when different advocacy approaches are likely to be most effective. When and where does the “friendly insider” approach, influencing through gentle persuasion, work better than the confrontational lobbyist, or the background facilitator helping the voices of individuals in communities to be heard? When is it more effective to lobby governments to change the law and when is it more successful to seek to try to change broad social norms and attitudes? I confess I’ve never given such questions too much thought in the past, but they are certainly provoking a lot of thought now. Unfortunately, all too often I heard how the advocacy efforts have to be focused on trying to get governments to implement hard fought for new policies that have already to have passed into law, but are not being translated into action. In Cambodia for instance, where school-teachers are very poorly paid at around $50/month, VSO’s research and advocacy helped to secure 20% year-on-year pay rise …..only it hasn’t been implemented properly yet!

I learned some of the techniques used to identify issues, and determine advocacy strategies, including problem trees where the branches articulate the issues and the roots the underlying causes, i.e. a bit like ADP/Lean Sigma fishbone diagrams ….but in my view a bit prettier to look at! Many other advocacy techniques are similar or sometimes exactly the same (e.g. stakeholder mapping) as those I know and love from Lean Sigma and ADP, but it was both good fun applying them in such a different context.

An elegant problem tree outlining some of the issues and root causes around Women’s participation and influence in PNG:
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How do you think it’s going Will?
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