On CityChangers.org, you can find several success stories about cycling advocates, effective car-free campaigns and people advocating for a more liveable neighbourhood. Advocating for your goal is a crucial skill in changing your city for the better – here’s all we learned about it.
If you’re under the impression the following skills are not your strong suit, don’t be discouraged! It is not a question of genetics, and everyone can learn these and improve with time. Driving change in a city can be done by everyone who’s passionate and determined- and we are happy to help you take the first step!
We are starting with everyone’s go-to strength in job interviews: Teamwork. It might seem obvious, but the ability to work in a team is incredibly important when advocating for change.
This ability grants you to find support and motivation within a group. The power of the community shouldn’t be underestimated. When advocating for change, the first step is to surround yourself with dedicated people that share your passion but have various interests and experiences. A group of people from various demographics will allow you and your team to create a broad and inclusive framework of ideas.
Teamwork not only relates to your team of advocates but to coalitions in the policy and economic sector as well. To drive sustainable change, it is necessary to have support in all sectors, businessmen and -women, judges, legislators and so on. Networking is essential and will help you in convincing and advocating for your project across party lines.
Communication and advocacy go hand-in-hand – it is the be-all and end-all when it comes to convincing people of your idea.
First, get the messaging right. Know the audience you are targeting and adjust your message accordingly. This implies having a clear message about your goals, how you are planning on achieving them, and what results you’re aiming for.
Second, use people-centric language rather than modality-centred language. It is much more effective, as we humans are egocentric.
Something many people struggle with is the organisation. This includes the overall planning of your project but also the organisation of your advocacy work. It involves timing, preparation and execution.
Let’s start with timing: Many experts we talked to referred to the same important advocating trick: creating momentum to prove your point. Time your project or your campaign with events or holidays in mind to create more attention.
When it comes to preparation, many people underestimate the work that goes into advocating “invisibly” before you go on the streets and actually talk to people. The more information you have, the better. Gather data supporting your case, look for similar examples showing that it actually works, and deploy multiple tactics to ensure success.
Advocating demands the skill to adapt. This involves adapting your communication to specific target groups, but moreover, it demands the ability to accept criticism and learn from it. Your campaign or your project needs to evolve for it to guarantee sustainable change. Advocacy should not be set in stone, it needs to evolve and progress. With time, you will see gaps in your project. When difficulties arise, it is important not to give up but adapt. Be open and grateful for criticism, take it seriously and improve. Ask the critics what they would do different and involve the community to have long-lasting change for everyone affected.
There are two sides to leadership. One is within your own community: If you see something that has to change, don’t wait for others to change it! Speak out! If you break the glass ceiling, many others will follow. We know it’s much easier to just complain, but don’t grumble along. Take action! It might not be easy in the beginning, but if you are determined to make it happen, it will eventually happen.
Good political leadership is crucial for your advocacy group. Having politicians on your side is critical for any change in cities, so use your voice to connect your work with the political agenda. Put all the communication and advocacy skills into action and integrate your project into existing policy agendas. This will help you a lot in convincing policymakers about your projects.
How to In a Nutshell…
Practice makes perfect! You can learn and improve all of the skills mentioned above. Have a plan before taking action, know who you are communicating with, who you can collaborate with, and what you are trying to achieve. Preparation is key!