Q: Who needs advocacy? A: We all do! – By Henrietta Hopkins

Have you noticed advocacy is in the air?  On the 6th January the National Museums Directors’ Conference published Museums Deliver a thoroughly researched document outlining the, ‘unique and special role’ played by museums bringing, ‘pleasure, knowledge and connection with others’.  It highlights the fact that in fulfilling this role museums, ‘enrich lives across the UK and around the world’.  The document uses evidence to trumpet the value of museums in society.  The Museums Association has just launched a 6 month advocacy campaign Love Museums during which they are running free half-day workshops for the sector to help museums improve their advocacy skills.  They are also planning articles on the subject for future issues of Museum Practice. Visual Arts in Liverpool (VAiL) has committed, through partnership working, to champion the visual arts in Liverpool; Cheshire West and Chester Council has produced an Arts Advocacy Pack to show how the arts can engage with partners and communities; and the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) carries out a wide range of advocacy work with various partners. In America the American Association of Museums (AAM) is planning the second of its Museums Advocacy Days where the AAM offers a day of advocacy and policy training in Washington before encouraging as many museums as possible to go as a group to Capitol Hill, taking their co-ordinated messages on sustainable museums to House and Senate offices.  You can watch the promotional video to find out more.  It has also placed advocacy at the centre of its new strategic plan The Spark. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the range of activities we’ve noticed in the cultural sector where people are speaking out and getting support for what they or their users do.

Thinking about the US reminds me that international advocacy should be a core plank of our thinking too.  Back in 2005 Hopkins Van Mil was commissioned by MLA to develop Taking a Global Perspective an international advocacy resource for museums, libraries and archives giving evidence for the value of international collaboration for the core activities of our sector.   National and international initiatives such as these are essential for a healthy, thriving sector which provides the kinds of service visitors, users and audiences want and need for their vibrant communities.  But – getting involved at this level is impossibly daunting for smaller cultural organisations simply trying to manage their work on a day-to-day basis.  My thought for the day is that perhaps it is less so if we think about it in terms of communicating well to those who can help us. In those terms it is an essential tool for any museum, library, archive, arts or heritage professional at community, local and regional level; and is complementary to the high-profile national and international campaigns organised by national policy and professional organisations.

Anita and I at Hopkins Van Mil have been running mentoring and capacity building programmes for the cultural sector for some time.  We have developed a series of resources which help those at grass roots levels use advocacy, for example, to:

  • Persuade local councillors of the value of their arts or heritage organisation to the community;
  • Encourage people to support their activities financially;
  • Encourage new volunteers to give their time to arts, museum, archive or library projects and core activities;
  • Identify who managers need to influence for the future sustainability of their organisation.

Some of these resources are available to download from our website.  What follows are a few pointers which you might want to consider if you’re interested in getting your message across more effectively.

1. Do you know why you are important?

It is essential for effective advocacy that all those in the organisation are agreed on why it is important – what is your core idea?  If your organisation is to speak out and influence people to gain recognition, funding and support it will need to understand:

  • What the organisation is good at?
  • What is its purpose?
  • Why it’s doing it?
  • Who is it doing it for?

Simply brainstorming on this can be very helpful in clarifying your thinking and making sure everyone is thinking the same thing – and even more importantly – saying the same thing to those you need to influence.

2. What are you advocating?

Equally essential is to be clear about what it is you are advocating.  Agree the messages you need to convey through your advocacy work.

  • Are you running a campaign to fundraise for core funding to keep your organisation open?
  • Do you want local councillors to be more aware of your value?
  • Would you like more press coverage for your work?
  • Is your education service under-used by local schools?

When you know what your messages are you can make sure you are providing benefits in line with those messages. From this starting point it will be possible to offer evidence and solutions which those you are targeting will find intriguing and interesting. It will help them to decide to help you.

3. How are you going to do it?

Setting SMART objectives is just as important for advocacy as other planning activity, agree:

  • The specifics of the campaign;
  • How you are going to gather the evidence of your value to back up your campaign;
  • How you are going to measure your achievements;
  • Whether or not what you want to do is achievable and realistic;
  • By when you want to have completed each element within the plan.

Objectives will help you make sure you keep your advocacy on track and help you use the tools available appropriately to suit the kinds of people you wish to influence.  You may wish to develop a stakeholder map a tool for identifying all the people you need to engage with to advocate effectively; you may need to spruce up your communications, or communicate differently; perhaps you need to hold engagement workshops.  All these can be agreed within the objective setting phase.

So these are the first three steps to get you going.  We’d love to hear from you if you are already an experienced advocate for your organisation.  Do you have an advocacy strategy in place or use specific tools to influence the support you get for your organisation? Let us know by commenting on this or contacting us direct.

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