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Advocating for transparency policies - a toolkit for students, researchers, staff, and librarians

Adapted from Advocating Open Access – a toolkit for librarians and research support staff by JISC and A Workshop Curriculum on Policy Advocacy Strategy Development by PATH.

Choose an advocacy issue.

Identify the main problem you wish to address.

  • Write 1 or 2 sentences outlining the problem that your campaign intends to address through advocacy.

Identify 3 root causes ("issues") for the problem.

  • Identify 3 root causes, or issues, for your main problem.
  • Write 1 or 2 sentences describing these 3 issues.

Assess potential advocacy issues.

  • For each of your issues, answer Yes or No to these questions:
    • Can a policy change or the implementation of an existing policy improve this issue?
    • Do you have experience or insight into this issue?
    • Is there evidence that this issue leads to your problem?
    • Can a policy change or implementation happen in a timeframe that works for you? Most campaigns run about 3 to 5 years, but your contract or your expected time at an institution might be the best timeframe.

Prioritize potential advocacy issues.

  • For each remaining issue, assess as the following criteria as Low, Medium, or High:
    • Clarity
    • Specificity
    • Evidence-based
    • Partnership potential
    • Political will
    • Unique expertise
    • Available resources
    • Carries little to no risk
    • Significant impact if addressed
    • Success feasible in 3–5 years

Choose an advocacy issue.

  • Based on your assessment and prioritization activities, select your issue for advocacy.

Choose an advocacy goal.

Identify potential solutions.

  • Brainstorm the what and the how of possible solutions to your issue:
    • What: What is the big change you would like to see that would improve your advocacy issue?
    • How: What is the specific action a decision-maker can take to accomplish the change above?
  • Brainstorm the who and the when of possible solutions to your issue:
    • Who: What is the decision-making institution or individual with the power to take action on your advocacy issue?
    • When: What time frame is needed for the action to occur?

Turn policy solutions into an advocacy goal.

  • Combine your potential solution into one advocacy goal statement:
    • {Who} will {How} to ensure {What} by {When}.

Compile evidence / resources for advocacy.

Gather essential resources about your issue.

  • Find up-to-date definitions of terms such as clinical trial transparency, clinical trial, registration, and reporting.
  • Identify relevant policies at the institutional level, funder level, or discipline specific guidance.
  • Find tools, resources, and best practice guidance

Create an evidence dossier for your solution.

  • Create a dossier of the evidence you have to support the issue that you want to address and the proposed solution. In your dossier, include:
    • Citations of the sources of your evidence.
    • Categories of evidence (qualitative, quantitative, levels of evidence).
    • Summarize major findings from each selected source.
    • Audience or ideal use for each source of evidence.

Provide targeted FAQ and informational documents.

  • Draft FAQ documents based on the identified resources and evidence.
  • Repurpose and share resources:
    • Whenever possible, avoid remaking resources if they already exist.
      • Provide a list of resources that are relevant to your audience.
      • Adapt and reframe reusable resources, if needed.

Plan for decision-makers and influencers.

Identify key decision-makers.

  • Decision-makers are: (1) people with the power or authority to take the desired policy action; or (2) the staff or key advisors of those who have that power or authority.
  • Based on the Who in your advocacy goal, brainstorm 2 lists:
    • (1) a list of categories of key decision-makers.
    • (2) for each of the categories, list specific individuals decision-maker with the authority to make the decision about your goal.

Identify key influencers.

  • Key influencers are individuals or groups who can compel the actions, opinions, or behavior of the key decision-makers listed previously.
  • Based on the list of key decision-makers above, brainstorm 2 lists:
    • (1) for each individual decision-maker, make a list of key influencer categories.
    • (2) for each of the categories, list individuals who might compel action for that individual decision-maker. Whenever possible, identify specific people rather than stakeholder groups (list "Oprah" rather than “talk-show hosts”).

Create a Decision-maker Map.

  • Identify decision-makers' awareness, position, and key interests:
  • For each individual key decision-makers listed previously, identify their:
    • Awareness of your specific issue (not a broader related issue, but your specific advocacy issue) by picking a level for each:
      • Unaware: not familiar with your issue.
      • Aware of the issue, but inaccurately informed: has heard of the issue, but may have information that is outdated or inaccurate.
      • Aware of the issue, but mostly uninformed: has heard of your issue, but may not have much information.
      • Accurately informed of the issue: aware and correctly informed of your issue.
    • Position on your advocacy goal by picking a level for each individual decision-maker:
      • Opposed: clearly committed against your viewpoint. You are not likely to change their mind.
      • Non-mobilized: doesn’t yet have an opinion or is undecided on their position.
      • Low support: won’t oppose your goal but also not likely to be an active, visible promoter, either. They are generally supportive of the issue.
      • High support: actively working or speaking out on behalf of your goal as a visible and vocal champion to make a change. You don’t need to spend time trying to persuade these individuals.
    • Two key interests for each decision-maker, by answering:
      • (1) What might stop them from supporting our advocacy goal?
      • (2) What do they care about that we could use to persuade them to change their position?

Plan for opposition and obstacles.

Analyze the opposition.

  • Brainstorm a list of 2-4 potential opponents to your advocacy goal (individuals or groups).
    • Note their reasons for opposition.
    • Note their level of influence on your key decision-makers (High, Medium, Low, None).
    • Note their tactics of opposition.
    • If possible, note tactics to mitigate their influence on your key decision-makers.

Analyze the obstacles.

  • Brainstorm 3 obstacles to reaching your advocacy goal.
    • Common obstacles include:
      • Sustainability
      • Fundraising
      • Recruitment
      • Organization
      • Delegation
      • Communication
      • Accountability
      • Lack of expertise or information
    • Brainstorm at least one idea on how you might overcome each of these obstacles.

Assess team assets and gaps.

You need a team.

  • Learn to collaborate and delegate. You cannot succeed on your own.
  • Your most important choice is who is on your team.
  • Choose people who are more excited than you.
  • Actively care for and support the people you work with.
  • Reward people who are working with you with social activities, compliments, and assistance.
  • Inclusivity is important, but it does take time and effort so make it a priority.

Assess team capacity.

  • Assess organizational capacity. For each asset listed below, brainstorm whether you have a teammate that might be that asset. Add other assets that are relevant to your advocacy goal.
    • Teammates who:
      • are available to lead advocacy planning and management.
      • can be influencial spokespeople.
      • have relationships with decision-makers.
      • have relationships with media.
      • have expertise in communications and media relations.
      • have expertise in collaboration and coalition-building.
      • have expertise in community mobilization.
      • have expertise in social media.
      • have expertise with policy development and processes.
      • have experience with fundraising.
    • Identify your team's 3 greatest assets and 3 greatest gaps in capacity.

Choose your partners.

Select advocacy partners.

  • List 3-5 potential advocacy partner organizations, individuals, alliances, and coalitions. Partners should complement your assets and gaps, rather than replicate them. They should be aligned with your advocacy goal.
    • For each potential partner, brainstorm:
      • Strategic reasons to partner.
      • Potential risks to the partnership.
      • Anticipated ways and strategies to collaborate.

Reach out and build a community.

  • Working with those responsible for delivering related messages can make your advocacy more effective.
  • There are people in your institution who are involved in your issue. Find them. Librarians are great allies.
  • People will trust their peers more than someone from outside, so bring them into your community.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel – if someone is doing what you want to do, join them.
  • Look for gatekeepers – you can reach anybody, no matter how highly placed.
  • Follow organizations on social media that can help support you.
  • Contact young PIs at your institution. This could be good for your career.
  • Let people know what you are doing. Share on social media. Attract people who are interested. People can connect, collaborate, support, join.
  • You need a platform to get attention. Join well known bodies or organizations. Get gradually introduced to the world through these organizations. You are able to do more with a platform.
  • You never know who you are going to meet! Some of the best contacts are met unexpectedly.
  • You have to ask people to do things. Having supporters alone does not do anything. Having people do things is important.
  • Enlist top level support – when advocating, show these changes are sponsored by the Vice-Chancellor, PVCs, deans and research directors and senior researchers.

Make a plan.

Define your advocacy campaign mission, vision, and strategy.

  • You have already defined your advocacy goal. Now define the mission, vision, and strategy.
    • Mission: What will your advocacy do, for whom, and why?
    • Vision: What do you want your campaign to become?
    • Strategy: How are you going to succeed?

Define SMART advocacy objectives.

  • What will you accomplish and when? Objectives are the specific actions and steps that you want your decision-makers and influencers to take in support of your advocacy goal.
  • Write 3 advocacy objectives that are needed to achieve your advocacy goal:
    • Your objectives must be:
      • Specific: Target a specific area for improvement and define who will be taking action.
      • Measurable: Quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
      • Achievable: "Can the measurable objective be achieved by the person?".
      • Realistic: State what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
      • Time-related: Specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
  • What is your campaign scope?
    • Just as important as defining what you WILL do is defining what you WILL NOT do.
  • Deliverables
    • What will you do or make?
  • Boundaries
    • Who is your audience?
    • What is your timeline?
    • What is your budget?
    • What do you need to do?

Identify possible advocacy activities to achieve your objectives.

  • The best advocacy activities will depend on your objectives and your decision-makers. Brainstorm 3 possible activities per objectives that will lead you to achieving them. Examples are below:
    • Traditional and new media (Creating an op-ed, press release, press briefing, Twitter post, Facebook post, webinar, interview, media advisory, website, YouTube channel, podcast, documentary, press conference, art installation, Google Hangout, listserv, letter to the editor, blog, etc.)
    • Events and meetings (Host a photo or art exhibit, policy dialogue, private dinner, film festival, award ceremony, demonstration, report launch, expert panel, symposium, field visit, gala, summit, commemoration, task force, coalition meeting, cocktail reception, parliamentary briefings, meeting with decision-makers, stakeholder briefing, etc.)
    • Materials and publications (Creating a report, fact sheet, policy brief, brochure, poster, infographic, white paper, talking points, peer-reviewed journal article, slidedeck, newsletter, photo book, etc.)
    • Gathering evidence for advocacy (Gather data through modeling, key informant interviews, facility assessments, case studies, focus groups, collecting stories, pilot projects, cost-effectiveness evaluation, field visit, literature review, policy and budget analysis, etc.)
    • Monitoring commitments and promoting accountability (Promote accountability through participatory budgeting, public expenditure tracking, community scorecards, citizen report cards, social audits, citizen charters, health committees, health pacts, public audits, etc.)

Prioritize advocacy activities.

  • The best activities are the most likely to have a direct impact on your decision-makers. Select your 1 main activity for each objective by answering Yes or No for each possible activity:
    • Will the activity address a decision-makers' key interest?
    • Will the activity be of interest to a decision-maker?
    • Will the activity lesson the influence of an opposing group on your decision-maker?
    • Does your team have the expertise and resources to successfully complete the activity?
    • Are there upcoming events, dates, or public decisions that this activity could piggyback?
    • Does the activity pose any risk to your team or advocacy goal?

Identify advocacy activity resources.

  • For your 3 main advocacy activities, define what you need for them to be successful:
    • Team: What type and how much team time and expertise will be needed to carry out your desired activities?
    • Partners: Will you need the expertise or resources of partners to successfully implement an activity?
    • Costs: What are the costs associated with these activities?
    • Timeline: When should the activities be conducted? How long will they take? Is there a particular time that they should take place?

Create your advocacy work plan.

  • Now, you can put together your work plan!
    • Compile the activities above into a work plan that defines:
      • Objective No. 1
        • Activity No. 1, Responsible teammates, Activity partners, Costs, Timeline.
      • Objective No. 2
        • Activity No. 2, Responsible teammates, Activity partners, Costs, Timeline.
      • Objective No. 3
        • Activity No. 3, Responsible teammates, Activity partners, Costs, Timeline.

Delegate advocacy tasks.

  • Define discrete tasks for each activity with realistic deadlines.
    • What will happen
    • Who will do what
    • When will we complete the task
    • What resources do we need
    • What barriers might we meet
    • How + with whom do we communicate our progress
  • Delegate tasks based on interests and time
    • Schedule a meeting near major deadlines
    • Discuss challenges meeting the deadline
    • Offer support
    • Re-evaluate tasks

Develop compelling advocacy messages.

Understand what motivates your audience.

Take their temperature.

  • Take the temperature of the groups you want to communicate with.
  • This can be done formally (through a survey, structured interview, or focus group) or informally (a chat over coffee with a member of the group).
  • Gauge how much they understand about your issue and advocacy goal, what their attitudes and beliefs are, and what their concerns, interests, and motivations might be.

What do they need to know: Create an Audience Map.

  • One way to organize this information is in an Audience Map:
    • Helps you prioritize who you should talk to first
    • A living document you can update as you meet and learn from your audience, or as their engagement changes
    • First step to tailoring your communication to the motivations and information needs of your audience
  • Only begin crafting your messages and choosing channels to use when you understand your stakeholders’ needs well
    • Before you start communicating, consider:
      • Who you want to reach
      • Why are they important
      • What motivates them

Create an Audience Profile.

  • Create an Audience Profile for a ‘typical’ audience member.
  • Helps to organize what you learn
  • A living document you can update as you meet and learn from your audience.
  • Tailor your story to resonate with their motivations.
  • Tailor your information to address what their information needs might be.
  • The learner’s general background and prior knowledge.
  • The problem they face.
  • How you can help them (Software Carpentry Instructor Training)

Construct the message in four parts:

1. What is the issue, as it relates to the audience?

  • Use lay language or provide appropriate definitions.
  • Start with a positive, succinct, definition of your issue that is appropriate for that audience.
    • For example, "Clinical trial transparency is when important information for clinical trial stakeholders (patients, physicians, policy-makers, etc.) is made public by registering all clinical trials and reporting all clinical trial results."

2. Why should your audience care about the issue?

Always start with the "Why?"

  • Why do you care about the issue?
    • To give them the “I have a dream” speech, not the “I have some facts” speech, or even the “I have a plan” speech, you need to identify your motivation for wanting to improve this issue. Think about:
      • How does this issue relate to your experiences?
      • How does this issue relate to your values?
      • How does this issue impact your role / profession?
      • What worries or hopes do you have about this issue?
      • How do you fit into this picture?
      • Why is this issue important to you?
  • Why are you talking to this audience about the issue and why should they care?
    • Now, focus on your audience's "Why?"
      • How might this issue relate to their experiences?
      • How does this issue relate to their values?
      • How does this issue impact their role / profession?
      • What worries or hopes might they about this issue?
      • How do they fit into the advocacy plan? Why do you need them?
      • Why should they care about this issue?
  • Identify their needs, key interests, and concerns.
    • What existing policies on your issue are relevant to them?
    • What support and informational needs might they need?
    • What concerns and worries will they have?
    • What advantages and value does your advocacy goal hold for them?
  • Write a succinct message that tells your audience the "Why" of your issue and advocacy goal that gives them the story of:
    • Why YOU (specifically) are talking to THEM (specificially).
    • If you have shared values relating to this issue, tell them how your values lead you to care about the issue.
    • Why they should care about the issue.

3. What is the solution and its impact on the problem?

  • Write a brief outline of your advocacy goal and describe how it will solve the issue.

4. What should the audience specifically do?

  • Write a very specific and targeted "ask" or request for your audience.

Craft your pilot messages.

  • Connect the above 4 parts into one message that emphasizes the Why and leads to a clear request.
  • Evaluate whether your messages are:
    • Brief
    • Focused
    • Solution-oriented
    • Supported by evidence
    • Targeting the key interests of the audience
    • Useing non-technical language
    • Optimistic
    • Has a clear request
  • Keep your pilot message short, under 3 minutes. If there is important information that cannot be contained in 3 minutes, create a handout or brochure with the additional informating, targeted FAQs, and targeted resources.

Identify advocacy messengers.

Match audiences with messages & channels.

  • Involve the right people – identify and map your audiences and stakeholders, their interests, concerns and needs.
  • Identify the available channels of communication in your institution.
  • Matching the target audiences you have identified with clear, compelling messages that inform them, address their needs and concerns, with the most relevant communication channels.

Communicate face-to-face

  • Communicate regularly and consistently using a variety of appropriate channels to ensure you reach all the target audiences you hope to contact.
  • Test your messages on colleagues or associates who are unfamiliar with clinical trial transparency with the aim of clarifying your message based on what they don’t understand.
  • You must be honest and genuine in how you communicate. This strengthens trust, builds relationships, and improves chances of audiences being receptive and supportive. The information in the messages you send of the things you say face-to-face should be concrete not abstract.
  • Face-to-face contact, emails, video, and other methods

Communicate regularly & consistently

  • Promote readiness and responsibility – communicate regularly with clear ‘calls to action’.
  • All surveys of internal communication continue to confirm that face-to-face contact with stakeholders is still the way most people prefer to receive information.
  • Leaders and managers (heads of research groups, PIs, and supervisors) are vital channels for strategic communication.
  • Social media is a valuable means of staying up-to-date with and sharing latest developments, participating in or leading a community of interest, and communicating successes.
  • Email is one of the next most popular channels for receiving and sharing information.

Piggyback events

  • Difficult to get scientists and researchers to attend events. Many expressed interest in coming, but get too carried away with their job. Take 5 minutes at the end of other talks, other events.
  • Join other events, existing events, speak at those events. Use relationships and follow-up after the events.
  • "Open training" or “Open Science” does not attract new participants. Instead, design an event that addresses a problem that your audience has to start the conversation and grow the community.
  • Talk to researchers about their problems and design your workshop to solve those problems.
  • Piggyback other events that your audience attends.

Organize your own events

  • Write your immediate event objectives.

    • Good objectives are:
      • Active – it describes what audience can do
      • Attractive – audience want to achieve it
      • Comprehensible – audience know what it means
      • Appropriate – to the audience’s current goals and career plans
      • Attainable – most audience will mostly meet it, with due effort
      • Assessable – we can see if it has been achieved
      • Visible – in the public event information (Software Carpentry Instructor Training, Baume 2009)
  • Use reverse instructional design.

    • Start from your event objectives.
    • Decide what constitutes evidence that these objectives have been met (summative assessment).
    • Design event content to prepare audience for what they will have to do during the summative assessment.
    • Sort the content in order of increasing complexity and then provide the content and motivation they need to close the gap between what they know and what they need to know to complete the summative assessment. (Software Carpentry Instructor Training)
  • Choose a format.

    • Decide what format is best for your audience and your content.
    • Keynotes are not interesting, but can bring people into the room.
      • If you have a keynotes, pad them with diverse advocates
    • Lightning talks and workshops are more engaging.
    • Peer-to-peer conversations are the best.
  • Bring enthusiastic helpers for energy and assistance.

  • Find partners, co-hosts, and sponsors.

    • Librarians should be your #1 contact when organizing a workshop in an academic institution.
      • Librarians know how the institution works.
      • Librarians can find you free space and sometimes a budget for food.
      • Librarians have contacts across departments.
      • Librarians can promote on campus, listservs, and on social media.
      • Librarians connect participants with local resources / people.
    • Find sponsors to cover expenses and help promotion.
    • Consider collaborating and bring in a co-host.
      • Be sure to very clearly delegate responsibilities and provide timelines.
      • Bring in a host that complements what you have to offer.
  • Schedule your event

    • Timing matters for attendance - ensure you are not scheduled during a popular event or busy period for your audience
    • Schedule your event to follow related events or to coincide with important dates, and frame your event to relate
  • Promote your event

    • Create a Google Form for RSVPs. For a free workshop, expect up to 50% attrition.
    • Reach out for help with promotion and join forces.
  • Diversity issues

    • Not enough diversity, loudest people dominate the training
    • Have a diverse crowd, how to make that diverse voices

Define, measure, and evaluate success.

Define and list outputs.

  • Outputs are:
    • the evidence that the activities you planned actually happened.
    • Sometimes quantitative:
      • Number of meetings
      • Number of presentations
      • Number of participants trained at a workshop
    • Sometimes things that what you created during your activity:
      • Curriculum created
      • Handouts created
  • Make a list of your outputs for each advocacy activity.

Define and list outcomes.

  • Outcomes are:
    • The effects of your activities.
    • Sometimes the actions taken by decision-makers:
      • Funding to study the issue, changes to polices, public statements of support.
    • Sometimes the actions taken by others:
      • Mentions of the issue in the media or by others.
    • Sometimes qualitative.
      • Changes in sentiment, language, or understanding of the issue by decision-makers.
    • Your measure of how effective your activities are.
      • Defined outcomes force you to consider exactly how you measure success and progress from your activities.

Gather feedback and share success.

  • Gather feedback after each communication to evaluate how well it went.
  • Online quizzes and surveys can quickly check understanding and changing opinions about your issue with your audience.
  • Metrics on registration and reporting at your institution might help you understand if you are making a difference in the long-term.
  • When you have success, be sure to share it with everyone! For example, Open Access Success Stories.

Advocacy tips

Play the game, but don’t become part of it.

  • You have to live in the real world. If you wait for a pure universe you will wait forever. Play the game but don’t become part of it. Be most effective, but don’t become trapped or dependent. What is the alternative? Being ineffective.
  • There are times where you have contradictions in transparency, complications with being completely transparent. It is hard to navigate the real world in a pure manner, although aspire to it. Resolve contradictions over the long haul, but not at the beginning.

Stay focussed on what YOU are trying to do.

  • It is a mistake to solve every problem. If you try and solve everything, you solve nothing. Stay focussed on what YOU are trying to do.
  • Know why you are doing what you are doing.
  • The more specific the task, the more likely it will happen.

Decide how long do your campaign needs to last.

  • You are starting with people who are dedicated but it is not their job. You need to ask yourself: to what extent do you professionalize what you are trying to do? Keeping momentum with volunteers is hard + rare. The energy of founders is critical to existence. If you professionalize, you are breaking with your roots. You need to either make compromises in time or in what you want to accomplish.
  • People like new projects, but they can run out of steam. Think about how you can keep it going, or if it needs to keep going.
  • To keep student run projects going beyond graduation, you need to find a new leader.
  • Document what you are doing to allow the organizational knowledge to continue, even when people leave.
  • It is not bad for things to die! If it is a short-term agenda, or a small idea, don’t think you have to make an organization that lasts forever.
  • If you want the organization to grow, have a vision beyond the immediate. Listen to what others want in the short-term, but think beyond those wants. Very few people will be able to tell you how to solve the problems. Think long-term.

Everything will evolve.

  • Your mission will change, the membership will change, and the strategy will change over time. That’s normal!

You have more resources than you think.

  • If you have enthusiasm, community, and allies you have everything you need to get started!