The Estratega Process for Advocacy Strategy in Public Policy responds to the need for better advocacy planning globally. Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente (FCI) developed Estratega after uncovering this need through collaborations with UNICEF. The process is made up of three components—a web platform (accessible at estratega.io) as well as a methodology and a series of workshops outlined on this site. The three components work together to ultimately improve effectiveness of advocacy work.

The methodology is presented here as a linear process, which makes it easy to follow. However, like all methods and processes in the policy innovation toolkit, working through this process in the real world is rarely linear. In fact, it’s important that we revisit previous steps and iterate on our plan as we learn new information about what is and isn’t effective as we work to influence policy.

The Estratega workflow is a great introduction and first step in creating a well-rounded strategy for advocacy work. The initial plan focuses our efforts. It makes explicit our assumptions about the problem and our ideas to overcome it, giving us something tangible to reference in communicating and justifying our decisions. It also explicates our process for adapting our understanding of the problem, our strategy, and our actions.

Stage 0: Organizational Focus

 

The Estratega process begins by identifying the focus of our advocacy planning activities. Creating and implementing an effective strategy for advocacy requires buy-in and commitment from the entire organization and sometimes even partners. By articulating our organizational focus, we can gather background materials on the topic to inform our efforts, determine which stakeholders we need around the table to develop the plan, and decide the best format for facilitating the Estratega process.

This stage includes completing a broad analysis of the situation, developing or determining organizational priorities, and creating a plan for going through the Estratega process. How we articulate our organizational focus, make the decision regarding the format of the process, and gather background materials is not prescribed by Estratega. By the end of it, we should know which stakeholders we will need to consult before beginning, which we will invite to the table to help us plan, and which we will work with afterwards to implement the plan. We’ll also have to gather and distribute any relevant background information for participants to support informed decision making, and we should have an idea of our organizational focus (ex. “Gender-based violence” or “advertising targeting children”).

To understand both the internal and externals factors affecting our organization, we can use the SWOT method. It’s a great way to analyze the current context, including aspects that are helpful as well as harmful. We can use the prioritization method to then decide which of these factors are actionable. Again, right now, we’re just looking to identify the general area in which we are working. We will develop specific problems frames later in the Estratega process.

Stage 1: Defining the Problem Area

 

Understanding the problem we are responding to is a natural first step in developing an advocacy plan. We need to unpack the problem to understand its roots—exploring multiple possible causes will strengthen the impact of our advocacy work. Only once we are able to articulate the problem and its causes can we begin to generate possible solutions.

This stage looks at the issues at hand, digging into the causes and consequences of the the problem. We start by exploring a problem that came out of our Organizational Focus work. We leverage the wisdom of the group to understand the symptoms/consequences and causes of the problem, with the expectation that there is likely to be more than just one cause. Understanding the root causes of the problem will support our work in generating and prioritizing possible advocacy solutions.

One useful tool to assist in visually mapping out the main causes and consequences is the Problem Tree. It’s a great format for quickly capturing the problem, its symptoms/consequences, its causes, and possible political solutions. From this work we will decide upon our goals for this advocacy strategy.

Stage 2: Goals and Objectives

 

In developing an advocacy plan that will help us frame and implement a strategy for intentionally creating change in a system, we must articulate our goals and ultimate objectives. Goals and corresponding objectives guide our work. As we move iteratively through our plan and adapt it as necessary, it is our goals and objectives that keep us focussed on our overall strategy as well as the positive impact we are seeking.

Goals are the big picture changes that will result from our advocacy work. We develop these goals and adapt these goals based on our understanding of the problem and what will have the most impact. We then translate each goal into an objective—the solution or specific public policy change necessary to complete the goal. Once a number of objectives have been generated, we will use a set of viability criteria to help us prioritize the goals.

We have outlined a number of tools here to support the development of goals and objectives. First, the Creating a Goal tool helps us turn our problem area into a goal. Next, the Developing Objectives tool helps us turn our goal into actionable objectives. We will then use the Prioritization Framework to identify which objectives we need to focus on.

Stage 3: Political Economy

 

Understanding the political context of our policy objective provides a baseline for the feasibility of our objectives, informs a plan of strategic activities, and allows us to identify both opportunities and risks early on in the process.

A simple understanding of the political economy will include identifying the pertinent actors to your policy priority, mapping those actors according to power and interest, understanding the process for making decisions within the particular context of each main actor, and identifying enabling factors and barriers.

The typical order of activities has us first map the political process, then chooses the path or paths to achieving our objective, determine the key actors and their level of influence and support, and then identify other external enablers and barriers to our success.

Stage 4: Intermediate Outcomes

 

Now, it’s time to start making our objectives more tangible. Charting the key milestones along our path to achieving our objective keeps us from getting caught in the weeds by trying to plan each detail out from the very beginning.

Intermediate outcomes are a series of steps organized sequentially, which together lead to the fulfillment of a goal. For example, if a particular organization seeks a bill is approved, the intermediate results will be all the stages which have to pass a public policy to be approved.

The Generating Intermediate Outcomes tool provides us with a number of types of outcomes we might be working toward, and a framework for articulating them including indicators of success. The Theory of Change tool takes us through a process of quickly putting those outcomes in order.

Stage 5: Asks and Actions

 

This stage looks at the actors in each intermediate outcome in order to formulate asks, specify actions related to these asks, and agree on accountabilities. Asks and actions is how we translate our strategy into action. In order to achieve our intermediate outcomes, and thus our objectives, we develop the asks required to create the change needed from each of our stakeholders. This change may be from awareness to salience or will, or from will to action.

We start by deciding how many asks we need and for whom we need them. For each change in a stakeholder we want to see, we will have an ask. We will develop a list of actions associated with each ask. We then pick someone to own the ask, determine the message we are using, and the method we will use for implementing the ask.

The Formulating an Ask tool is great for developing an initial set of asks across our stakeholders and intermediate outcomes. As we go through the process of developing our asks, we should consider using the Empathy Map tool for developing a stronger understanding of a particular stakeholder’s context.

Stage 6: Monitoring and Evaluation

 

Ongoing monitoring is an important component to successful advocacy work. The plan we develop is only as good as the information we have available to us at the time—we must adapt the plan to ensure the good work we are doing is as relevant and impactful as possible. Knowing that the plan will be adaptive over time gives us the confidence to make decisions even when we don’t have all of the information. A big part of monitoring and evaluation is validating the assumptions we have on an ongoing basis.

To monitor and evaluate our work, we must review both whether or not we are achieving our indicators as well as whether or not the indicators are still relevant. This means in addition to reflecting on our work, we must also reflect on and respond to changes in the environment/context around our work. Using a more agile approach to doing the work is a great way to keep our advocacy planning a living document that is updated as we learn more about the problem we are responding to and the impact of our work.

As intuitive as it is, it’s important to intentionally built a culture around understanding and measuring the impact of our work. When things get busy, monitoring and evaluation is one of the first things that gets moved to the side of our desk. A performance matrix can support ongoing monitoring and evaluation of our impact. There are also great retrospective tools available to support regular check-ins.