A human-centred design approach to advocacy planning


We know that advocacy planning is complex, and much of this complexity can be attributed to our stakeholders. The environment we work in is made up of multiple stakeholders, forming a network of relationships. We do our best to unpack these relationships through the nuances in how stakeholders respond in different situations and by understanding motivations around our work. We are always looking for better ways to tap into the individual and collective wisdom of our stakeholders.

There are a few key types of stakeholder groups with which we often interact.

  • The first type is a stakeholder group for which we want to see a shift in perspective. For example, from awareness of an issue to will or from will to action. These are often the stakeholders for which we are trying to create value through advocacy work.
  • A second type of stakeholder group is organizations with which we partner—typically because they can help us move past a particular obstacle, either internal or external. Partners help us deliver value to the stakeholder groups we want to see a shift in. In a few cases, we deliver this value through our partners, instead of directly.
  • The last key type we’ll mention is the stakeholder group we are advocating on behalf of. This is the stakeholder we want to keep top of mind at all times. As often as possible, we must find ways to interact with this stakeholder group. Our week must be based in there needs and obstacle.

Of course, these are just a few key types—there are many other stakeholder groups that we should consider, depending on who is involved in our advocacy work.

Independent of which stakeholder group we are working with, we need an approach that is more human-centred. We need a new approach for collaborating with our stakeholders and embracing diversity, we need a stronger understanding of the problem we are solving through them and the environment in which we are creating change, and we need a way to consistently engage our stakeholders to understand their needs and the obstacles they are facing.



Session Design


The ability to truly collaborate with our stakeholders can have a substantial and lasting impact on our advocacy work. True collaboration involves working with a diverse set of stakeholders, as equals, towards a shared vision. More than just partaking in constructive dialogue, collaboration is about taking action and holding each other accountable. Our time is valuable and so is the time of our stakeholders. When we invite them to collaborate with us, we want to respect their time.

This starts by being specific in the purpose of our meetings with them—letting them know what to expect and why their contribution is valued. It continues with following through on the promise of the invitation—running the meeting on time, delivering on expectations, and making it a great experience for all participants.

This section outlines tools and methods for running effective meetings with your stakeholders. It begins with a foundation method used to host focused conversation and group consensus workshops. It brings in methods for both developing new ideas as a group and making sense of them through clustering. It ends with a voting tool for making quick decisions to keep the meeting moving.

Problem Framing


Problem framing is an important theme in human-centred design. Instead of going straight to how we might solve a problem, it’s important to consider the problem at hand, understand if it is even a problem, if it’s the right problem, and how big of a problem it is. Problem framing is a consistent process throughout our work, and we should revisit the problem frame often. Knowing that we will revisit the problem frame gives us the confidence to move forward, even when we don’t have all of the information.

The first step in creating a problem frame is to understand the problem area. In interdisciplinary, collaborative work, it’s important everyone understands what’s in and out of scope. With the problem area in hand, it’s easy to create multiple problem frames, that we can continue to prioritize and iterate upon.
In this section, we’ll cover tools for understanding the problem at a high level. The why/how ladder enables us to choose the right level of the system to plan our intervention, while “how might we…” questions turn problem frames into opportunities.


Current State Mapping


A firm grasp of the current state enables us to build on successes and learnings of past and existing initiatives; it helps us identify trends that may impact the direction of our work; and it reduces our risk by uncovering opportunities and threats early on the process, so that we may plan for them.

Understanding the current state is often considered the first phase of a project—once an initial problem frame is developed. Current state mapping doesn’t necessarily have to happen solely at the beginning of the project though—ongoing scanning can be an effective way to maintain our understanding of the environment in which we are developing and implementing solutions. Whether it’s at the beginning of an initiative or halfway though, we need both look at what’s happening with our own organization as well as the system as a whole when we map the current state.

We’ve included a number of tools for mapping the current state in this section. A historical scan can be used to understand events, accomplishments and obstacles we have overcome as an organization or system. Ongoing scanning for signals and trends can improve our understanding of the environment we are working in, and the trend analysis method helps us understand ongoing trends and their impact on our work.


Stakeholder Analysis


Our stakeholders are the medium through which we create the change needed. Critical to our work with stakeholders is how well we understand their needs and the obstacles they are facing. The opportunity created by making our advocacy worked more human-centred relies on our commitment to taking the time to understand and ensure our work respond to the needs and obstacles of our stakeholders.

When we analyze our stakeholders, it’s important to understand who the relevant stakeholders are while also considering the experience of these stakeholders beyond just our work with them. Just like framing the problem and mapping the current state, stakeholder analysis should be a consistent activity throughout our work. The needs and obstacles of our stakeholders will change over time–at least they should if our work is successful.

To understand our stakeholders, we’ve included a number of tools to both decide which stakeholder we need to work with and capture their experience. Stakeholder mapping helps us compare the relative power and interest of our stakeholders. Empathy maps frame the experience of our stakeholders and can inform our decision-making related to each stakeholder group. A feedback grid is a quick and easy way of capturing someone’s reaction to something.



Some of the new approaches to advocacy work we’ve outlined can be difficult to leverage when using a waterfall approach to managing your work. Since waterfall planning moves through only phase at a time, there are inherent issues when using tools that are meant to be iterative. We need new ways of working to support a more flexible approach to planning and doing advocacy work.

The Agile philosophy for project management was originally created for use in software development. It has since become the method of choice in many organizations that need help responding to unpredictability in their work. It focuses on delivering value to stakeholder often through working increments. The tools we have included in this section can build on this idea to support a more iterative way of working. They are inspired by the Agile philosophy, and work whether or not you use Agile to plan and do your work. 

The first tool is Estratega, a new iterative approach for creating and acting on an advocacy strategy. Next, there is a method for time-boxing your work to encourage an incremental and iterative approach to advocacy. Then there is a method for running reflective meetings to encourage your team to capture and act on learnings.