Event 3: What is Advocacy?

Advocacy Definition

Advocacy is a coordinated combination of problem identification, solution creation, strategy development and actions taken to make positive changes.

Health Advocacy focuses on enhancing community health by advocating for health policy initiatives that focus on the availability, safety and quality of care.

Advocacy can take place at every level:

  • Local level (hospital, clinic setting)
  • State level
  • Federal level
  • International level

Advocacy and activism are terms that are often used interchangeably, and while they do overlap, they also have distinctly different meanings.

An advocate is one who speaks on behalf of another person or group.

An activist is a person who makes an intentional action to bring about social or political change.

Why Advocacy Needs to be Responsible in the Real World

From Joan's patient/health care consumer perspective:

Challenges/Barriers to Political Engagement and Advocacy

Lack of Knowledge or Experience with Advocacy

Potential Solution: Engage. Get involved. Create/attend small forums or educational opportunities.

Time Constraints

Potential Solution: Don't reinvent the wheel. Investigate similar successful advocacy campaigns and replicate the methods used.

Lack of Institutional Support

Potential Solution: Encourage your employer or university to incentivize advocacy, they are a potential resource.

Competing priorities

Potential Solution: Unite with individuals in alternate fields on common issues, this will provide a deeper pool of resources and larger audience.

Self-Doubt Regarding Understanding of Advocacy

Potential Solution: Stay informed! Seek out mentorships with individuals involved in advocacy, participate in educational programs.


How to Advocate

Advocacy is similar to policy development but this time you are "selling" the policy. Policy advocacy aims to influence decision makers and can involve public education, capacity building, relationship building, forming networks and leadership development.

  • Organize the stakeholders (the group of people affected by the policy)
    • Be prepared to lead. That doesn’t mean you have to do all the work. A good leader delegates.
  • Articulate the desired outcome (e.g. we want a new policy to be adopted)
  • Acquire the requisite knowledge
    • The history of the issue
    • What works (look for evidence of effective solutions)
    • The process of policy adoption
    • Who’s involved
  • Determine the message and craft it to the recipients
    • In the message, include the following:

      • Tell them what you want done.

      • Tell them why it needs to be done.

      • Tell them how it needs to be done.

      • Tell them who is going to do it.

    • The Advocacy Paradox: the story of the individual child is most persuasive, but the goals of the process must be to benefit the group (“class action”).

  • Plan a strategy for delivery of the message
  • Be omnipresent
    • As Woody Allen said, “90% of life is just showing up.” It is essential that advocates show up to support their proposal. There are many others in the “lobby” advocating for their proposal that are in direct competition with you for those scarce resources.

Adapted from: https://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10699

Communication with Others about a Policy

  • Simply sharing information and research does not mean a policy will be adopted or implemented; communication is needed for change.
  • Be concise, communicate only essential information, not an exhaustive literature review.
  • Avoid jargon and help others understand enough to make an informed decision.
  • Provide a set of specific recommendations backed up with evidence that flows from your argument and is appropriate for the audience.
    • Avoid abstract recommendations that are open to variable interpretation.
    • For example:
      • Abstract recommendation: All patients should be educated about opioid safety
      • Specific recommendation: With each prescription patients should be informed about the risks, safe use, storage and disposal of unused medication

If You Are Preparing a Policy Brief to Advocate

A brief is a short, neutral summary of what is known about a particular issue or problem. It is typically fewer than 1000 words and uses facts and figures to present an issue to readers who want a basic understanding.

  1. Identify your audience
  2. Create a working statement that presents a way to resolve the issue the brief discusses
  3. Find the information you need to support your statement
  4. Write a summary statement to start off the brief
  5. Explain why the issue is important to readers in a concise manner with language that is easy to understand
  6. Use facts and figures to support your statement
  7. Close with a summary and call to action


On Being Inclusive

From Joan's patient/health care consumer perspective:

Example of a Policy Brief

American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Policy Issue Brief: Prescription Opioids Curbing Misuse and Abuse While Protecting Access for Cancer Patients October 10, 2017


Test Your Knowledge

Review the ASCO Policy Issue Brief: Prescription Opioids Curbing Misuse and Abuse While Protecting Access for Cancer Patients, October 10, 2017.

The intended audience for this brief is:

Correct. While the information in this brief is important for all stakeholders and policy makers this brief is designed especially for journalists to provide background information on key issues across health policy.

No One Ever Complained About Opioids

From Joan's patient/health care consumer perspective:

Advocacy as a 30-second Elevator Speech

  • An elevator speech is a message intended to spur decision makers to action.
  • Start with conclusions.
  • In less than one minute your audience should be able to understand:
    • What is the purpose?
    • What is the problem?
    • What actions are being recommended?

An elevator speech is best if it's: 

  • less than 30 seconds 
  • or - in words - approximately 80 to 90 words 
  • or - in sentences - 8 to 10 sentences

Crafting the Elevator Speech

The Message

What do you need your audience to know?

The Story and Key Data

Connect the message specifically to your work, with a quick fact/data and story.

The Ask

Consider who you are talking to, what they care about, and what it is within their power to impact. Make a specific request.

The Elevator Speech

Packages The Message, The Story and Key Data, and The Ask in a way that is short, personal and memorable.

Joan's Elevator Speech

Joan's elevator speech from her perspective as a patient/health care consumer:

ALA has more on elevator speeches:


Develop and Practice Your Own Elevator Speech

Now that you are familiar with Joan's experiences and the ASCO policy brief on the need to balance curbing misuse of opioids with access to those who require opioids as an essential part of their treatment plan, try to develop and practice giving your own elevator speech.

You are an advocate of the patient notification policy. You step into an elevator at work and find yourself alone with a leader from your discipline's department. You have 30 seconds to deliver your speech:

  • What is the purpose?
  • What is the problem?
  • What actions are being recommended?

It Often Wasn't Opioids that Helped the Most

From Joan's patient/health care consumer perspective:


From Joan's patient/health care consumer perspective:

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