Views on the effectiveness and impact of the community and voluntary sector social justice advocacy work varied.

  • The majority of community and voluntary sector organisations (69%) rated their social justice advocacy as either effective or very effective (Mapping Study, 2012), while the majority surveyed in the initial project report awarded themselves a score of three out of five for effectiveness (where five was very effective and one was ineffective).
  • The case studies (developed as part of the mapping study) highlighted the importance of clear narrow focus and sophisticated advocacy strategy as well as a number of other issues as predictors of effectiveness.

Factors that contribute to effective social justice advocacy work

  1. Have a well thought out advocacy campaign and strategy with clear intermediate goals within a longer term vision with agreed outcomes, underpinned by values of equality, human rights and community development.

  1. Keep the message simple but be ambitious and appeal to human interest and concern.

  1. Empower those affected to be their own advocates through training and professional support.

  1. Remember that how you win a campaign is as important as what you win. A positive win lays the foundation for future wins and a certain level of pragmatism is often required.

  1. Be reasonable, constructive and professional when dealing with decision makers. Build relationships of trust, appealing to the best in politicians and public servants can be helpful to their sense of fairness.

  1. Recognise the value of proven international models and frameworks and harness these whenever possible.

  1. Where relevant adopt a collaborative approaches (access regions/organisations) in order to provide evidence that the identified problems are systemic.

  1. Take advantage of opportunities and adapt to changes in the external environment e.g. a new government, new Minister, changing economic conditions.

  1. Find ways to measure the impact of an advocacy campaign (this will help in terms of harnessing resources and goodwill for future campaigns).

Source: Mapping Study (2012) Case Studies 

Policy-makers and influencers commenting on the differences in effectiveness between social justice advocacy organisations all clearly linked effectiveness to a number of key characteristics such as:

Policy-makers’ perceptions of the characteristics of effective social justice advocacy

Characteristics of Effective Social Justice Advocacy

Characteristics of Ineffective Social Justice Advocacy

Being genuinely representative with a clear mandate from the individuals/groups represented

The absences of a clear mandate

Combine being representative and professional with having clear engagement strategies with policy-makers

Outrage – without solutions (often

linked to a lack of realism)

Building relationships with people in the system and work to feed into the system

A general absence of energy and enthusiasm, linked to negative attitudes and approaches

Being solution focused

Negative attitudes and approaches

Being responsive and innovative

Being unresponsive, with a lack of innovative thinking and action

Working collectively

A lack of awareness and understanding of how policy/decision making processes work

Source: ‘In Other Words’: Policy-makers’ perceptions of social justice advocacy (2013)


Areas where there were less consensus and more divergent views about what is effective advocacy included:

  • The use of ‘outsider’ strategies (including engagement with general public and the use of media) was seen by some to be very effective and by others to be destructive (of relationships with policy-makers).
  • Combining an advocacy function with the service provision function was perceived by some to be essential to effective advocacy, while others were happy for these functions to be independent. Some identified the risk of bring both an ‘insider’ providing services on behalf of the state and an ‘outsider’ critiquing the role of the state.
  • The ability to produce focused and timely research that could be fed into the formation of policy was seen by some to be critical to effective advocacy, while for others this was less important than the effective delivery of services.

In order to address the issue of effectiveness and capacity we developed two tools, Assess Your Advocacy and Are we getting there? - A tool for identifying evaluation indicators for social justice advocacyThese are designed to help community and voluntary organisations measure their advocacy capacity and have an important contribution to make in relation to measuring the effectiveness of particular organisations social justice advocacy work.

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