Many people long to become better self-advocates or participate more effectively in advocacy work within the organizations in which they belong. But what does it mean to advocate? To advocate for yourself is to assert your requests/rights and make your wishes known. To advocate within an organizational context is to promote and defend the interests of the organization, and actively stand by, for, and with the members you serve.

The ultimate goal of advocacy work is to provide people with the knowledge, confidence and ability to effect change themselves, either on an individual basis or by working with others to bring issues to the attention of decision makers in public and private sectors. A four-stage problem-solving model can be helpful when we pursue an advocacy plan. The four-stage model is similar to many problem-solving methods available, in that it includes the stages of:


The first step is to define the issue or problem. Identify the key problem facing you. Second, gather information from community organizations, services and resources, and past advocacy efforts. You will need quality information from many sources in order to create a complete picture of the problem. Third, identify supporters; that means identifying those affected by the issue, the decision-makers, and the general public, be that groups or individuals who may be interested in the issue. Sometime it can also be helpful to identify the “legitimizers”: the people whose "stamp of approval" may be helpful to your efforts. If people are not yet supportive, what do you need to do to bring them closer to your position? Gathering support needs to be included in the next stage of planning.



The first step of the planning stage is to review the issue and identify the preferred solutions. The second step is to take stock of resources and identify all possible avenues to solving the problem. An important part of this stage is to consult with colleagues who may be able to offer you different perspectives. As well, enlist others in helping you predict the possible results of each of the solutions you are proposing. Creating a strong understanding of the resistance and possible consequences of your actions can be instrumental in finding a solution and a way of presenting that solution that will be acceptable. The third step is to develop an action plan. With the action plan, ensure that you have identified all the tasks and timelines, and review and revise the plan where needed.



This is the phase where you carry out the action steps in the plan. When considering the action steps, it can be helpful to ask yourself: Am I creating a positive image that shows I am willing to engage in dialogue about this problem? Have I involved my supporters? What schedule am I operating on? How effective are my written and verbal arguments and proposed solutions?



The final phase involves reviewing the effectiveness of the action plan. Review each action step and determine if it was implemented as designed. If not, note how the steps were modified. Ask the following questions: Was the key issue defined clearly enough to be understood by others not affected by the issue? Was the most appropriate solution chosen? Which strategies worked well and which didn't work well? Were there adequate resources to complete the action plan? Was the timing effective? Were the decision-makers convinced that change is necessary? Were the presentations effective, both in writing and in person?

Best practices show that many of us skip the planning stage and begin to act before we have clearly defined the problem and explored ALL the avenues to solve the problem. It is essential that we spend the time reflecting on the problem and all potential solutions before reacting. As well, make sure that you are approaching the person in the organization with the influence to respond to your request. It can be challenging to identify that person, but time well spent. Dealing with the wrong person, with no decision-making authority on the issue you are raising, can be frustrating for you, and for them.

Finally, the foundation for effective advocacy work includes the following beliefs:

  • We can make a difference if we TRY.
  • We live in a world where communities can best determine what they need and manage their own affairs.
  • Sensitive issues should be discussed, not hidden.
  • Learning is facilitated in a climate of mutual respect and trust.

Successful advocacy embraces the above principles, and approaches the problem-solving process with a commitment to professionalism and respect for others, while asserting one's rights. We can teach others about our issues, and reach solutions that meet our needs if we approach advocacy from this foundation.