Nonprofit Advocacy Influence In Uk Policy Arena Social Work Essay
Relatively litlle research was made on nonprofit organisations practicing PR. Various scholars have emphasized this fact and they took action to encourage the PR community to take a different perspective. “The problem is there is a general lack of recognition and study of activists as practising public relations. Activists and their potential contributions to public relations become marginalized and largely overlooked” (Coombs and Holladay, 2010)
For Smith and Ferguson (2001) activist’s groups “primary purpose is to influence public policy, organizational action, or social norms and values”. Many scholars refer to campaigning organisations as activists, but within this large group it seems there is litlle difference between small groups advocating for their cause and large, well establish organisations with recognized backround and expertize. Smith and Ferguson (2001) argues that activists are “special interest groups, pressure groups, issue groups, grassroot organizations, or social movement organizations”
Karlberg (1996) also critisize the way in which public relations research has developed. The research agenda “has focused almost exclusively on corporate and state communicative practices, and not on the communicative needs, constraints, or practices of citizen groups themselves.” In consequence, only businesses enjoy PR benefits while “citizens and communities” are not equiped with “the skills and resources to enter into public discourse on their own terms”. He argues that most of the research conducted within Grunig’s two-way symetrical framework is made within an asymetrical research agenda, as research “has focused on commercial and state-agency case studies. Even those studies that have focused on "activism" have done so not from the perspective of the activist publics, but from the perspective of how organizations respond to public activism” (Karlberg, 1996)
Dozier and Lauzen (2000) reinforced the same ideea that there is a lack of study in the “activist” public relation field and that PR practitioners and scholars “tend to foster a certain intellectual myopia, a systemic nearsightedness regarding alternative perspectives.”
Nowadays, even if “activists” are perceived somehow as PR practitioners, research made by many scholars reveal a corporate centric history of public relations and “the notion of activists as antagonists for public relations practitioners remains a strong current in thinking and writing about public relations” (Coombs and Holladay, 2010)
1.2 Nonprofit advocacy organisations
The establishment of public policy requires strong advocacy organisations as they are promoters and creators of policy ideas, providers of essential resources (expertise, funds and information) and shapers of public opinion needed to achieve effective policies.
There is an ample diversity within the population of advocacy group, some are well establish advocates with memorable histories of policy work while others are newly emerged organisations advocating for a cause. Working on a variety of topics, “they operate at all levels in the policy arena. They have many organizational forms, funding sources, and auspices. Their activities cover a wide range of tactics that include lobbying, organizing, research, campaign finance, and so forth” (McNutt, 2010).
Advocacy is an essential activity for nonprofit organisations in United Kingdom. In its various forms, whether implies lobbying or education and agenda-setting, advocacy plays an important role in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit organisations act as essential intermediary institutions that help preserve the responsivness of the government to the needs of constituents and the quality of a democratic process. They represent various opinions of minority and disempowered groups by pushing for changes in public policies and critically monitoring the policy arena. (Salamon, 2002)
Thus understanding what nonprofit advocacy is, how and to what extent advocacy is practiced and what are the core organisational characteristics with an impact on advocacy participation is of a crucial matter.
Most nonprofit advocacy is carried by organisations with a core mission of advocacy but direct service organisations gained lately a substantial role in the advocacy arena. An important issue is that this type of organisations face special challenges when practicing advocacy not as a primarly but as a secondary organizational function to support the core mission of direct service. (Kimberlin, 2010)
Various philosophical and practical barriers are faced by direct services nonprofit organisations when they try to implement effective advocacy activities. The main philosophical barrier is related to the unwilligness to fully empower constituents as advocates expressed by some service oriented nonprofits. In this case constituents are regarded more as service recipients rather then active organization representatives. Althought there is a clear trend in public policy making to support the need for nonprofit direct service organisations to “leverage the knowledge and expertise of their constituents and staff to advocate for social justice” (Donaldson, 2008). Practical barriers can be lack of funding, fear of retribution from core organizational funders or limited advocacy skills among staff.
This study will focus mainly on this type of organisations rather then those practising advocacy as a core activity.
2. Literature review
2.1 Nonprofit advocacy defined
Nowadays it’s not an easy task to assess who and how many organisations engage in advocacy activities. Measuring lobbying expenditure is not enough as lobbying is just one among various activities included in advocacy practice. Advocacy includes a vast range of tasks such as researching, letter-writing, analyzing, educating, skill-building, building relationships, mobilizing, organizing, protesting, petitioning, facilitating, awakening power, convening, etc (Avner, 2004). There are plenty of opportunities for organisations to advance a policy and social change without even engaging in lobbying.
There are many ways to define nonprofit advocacy. Even if many nonprofit organisations advocate on behalf of individual clients, more often nonprofit advocacy refers to collective advocacy.
A frequent definition of nonprofit advocacy is produced by Jenkins who describe advocacy as “any attempt to influence the decisions of an institutional elite on behalf of a collective interest.” (Jenkins, 1987:297). Scholars have advanced definitions that emphasize the conflict inherent in advocacy, for them “advocacy organizations
make public interest claims either promoting or resisting social change that, if implemented, would conflict with the social, cultural, political, or economic interests or values of other constituencies and groups.” (Andrews and Edwards, 2004:481)
Various researchings differentiate between self interest organizational advocacy and progressive advocacy. If self interest advocacy is designed to protect organisation funding contracts, “progressive advocacy practice refers to advocacy that (1) seeks to
address underlying structural and power inequities as distinct from advocacy motivated by organizational interest, and (2) applies strategies that meaningfully engage clients or constituents in all aspects of the advocacy process.” (Donaldson, 2008:26) In this case advocacy’s primarly purpose is to advance the interests of constituents, rather then self interests. Furthermore constituents are engaged in the advocacy arena.
Another perspective in defining nonprofit advocacy is the range of organisations categorized as nonprofit. In a research about advocacy organisations engaged in the political process, Andrews and Edwards (2004) include interest groups, social movement organisations and direct service nonprofit agencies. Some advocacy researchers (Reid, 2006) analyzed organisations for whom advocacy is a core mission. Others (Donaldson, 2008) have explored direct service organisations that consider advocacy as a secondary organisational activity. Few researches focus on advocacy across both types of nonprofit organisations (Salmon, 2002).
A narrow definition limits the advocacy concept to lobbying and reduce the advocacy process to the attempt to influence legislation by urging constituents to engage elected representatives or to communicate directly with government officials. But the advocacy process implies various efforts to influence policies: building social capital, increasing civic participation and providing opportunities for disempowered constituents to make their voice heard by policy makers, public education and research on community needs, monitoring policy implementation (Reid, 2000 and Boris and Mosher-Williams, 1998)
2.2 Effective nonprofit advocacy strategies and practices
To be able to identify effective practices in achieving advocacy goals an analyze of activities performed by advocacy organisations must be undertaken. Early studies on effective nonprofit advocacy organisations identified common organizational strategies and charachteristics: build personal relationships with policy makers, connect policy makers in a direct manner to grassroot constituents, employ policy expertise, maintain focus and long term commitment on a small number of issues, allocation of strategic resources to enhance staff advocacy skills (Rees, 2001; Berry, 2001)
Hoefer (2000) advanced several practice principles for nonprofit organisations interested in affecting social policy:
use groups in advocacy, rather than acting as an individual
attract members and participant, focus on the big picture, on high level issues
focus on inside tactics-building an ongoing relationship between your group members/staff and legislators and agency officials. Use the media to influence a wider set of actors
be proactive about approaching decisionmakers and build coalitions with other groups with similar policy goals
be realistic about your goals
Nonprofit advocacy performance is visible and perceived as highly effective in the advocacy arena, with impact on policies and public opinion. They employ different strategies and are active in various stages in the policy making process. Saidel (2001) propose a political engagement framework and examines the functions of nonprofit organisations in overlapping phases of political engagement:
activation of individuals to consider engagement in political action
mobilization of coordinated resources and individuals
political participation or “the translation of aggregated resources and socially constructed understandings into action bridges the mobilization and political participation phases of political engagement” Saidel (2001:7)
An alternative framework is offered by Andrews and Edwards (2004) in a study about advocacy organisations engaged in the political process. They describe nonprofit advocacy efforts as targeted at five dimensions of the policy process:
agenda setting – what issues must be considered for policy development or for change
access to decision-making arenas
achieving favorable policies
monitoring and shaping implementation of policies
shifting the long-term priorities and resources of political institutions
(Andrews and Edwards, 2004)
2.3 Agenda setting and issue management
Policy antrepreneurs use media strategies to shape public opinion. They try to bend it toward their opinion about social problems and offer alternative solutions. This way they gain recognition as constituents representatives in front of policy makers. An agenda setting process implies three “streams” that “converge and push a policy idea through a window of opportunity, placing it on a shortlist for policy consideration”:
a problem stream, where social issues come to the consciousness of policy makers through agitation by a constituent or constituency group, or by an event that focuses the nation’s or a jurisdiction’s attention on a social concern.
a political stream, where the sentiment of the general public, or change in political actors through the election cycles generate a shift in values and/or priorities that might support a particular policy position;
a policy stream, in which policy experts generate a series of feasible options to address a recognized public problem.
To achieve systemic changes necessary to reform a policy, Howlett and Ramesh (2003) present a five-stage model of the policy cycle: agenda-setting, policy formulation, policy decision-making, policy implementation, policy evaluation.
Public policy making it’s “a focal point for the origins of issues management” (Coombs and Holladay, 2010:189). An issue was defined as a problem located in the public policy arena that is ready for a resolution. Heath defines issues management as a process by which an organization can act upon public policy issues that might influence its ability to operate. “It emphasizes the tactics and values necessary to assist organizations of various kinds, but especially businesses, in their efforts to adjust to and influence public policy” Issues management involves communicating, issue monitoring, achieving responsibility, and strategic planning (Heath, 1990:30)
In the policy arena, policies usually compete to appeal to policy makers due to large number of issues and less time for politicians to debate and act upon them. An issue is considered on the policy agenda at a specific point when policy makers officially debate that issue. “Agenda setting can include the process of having an issue rise to the level of consideration by politicians. The policy agenda represents the list of issues that political actor are considering” (Coombs and Holladay, 2010:189)
Media agenda reflect the stories being covered by the news media while public agenda the important issues for ordinary people.
There is a strong connection between media agenda, public agenda and policy agenda. This relationships is not linear as all three agendas interact eachother and are influenced by external factors. Media agenda exert a high degree of influence on public agenda while policy agenda is influenced by public agenda. (Coombs and Holladay, 2010)
The public policy making process starts with a policy formation, when an issue is placed on the policy agenda and policy makers are addressing the issue. Issue managers play a crucial role to influence policy formation. The next stage comprise the policy implementation, when the policy is executed and translated in operations. The final stage refers to the evaluation process, when success or failure of the policy is assessed.
Heath (1997:44) consider that issue management is about “strategic and ethical public policy formation”, with a focus on public policy issues. A more recent definition refers to the process of issues management as “a strategic set of functions used to reduce friction and increase harmony between organisations and their publics in the public policy arena” (Heath, 2005:460)
3. Research aim
The aim of this study is to examine the influence exerted on policy arena by nonprofit human rights organizations in order to identify and analyze best practices, practical strategies and processes used to facilitate advocacy efforts and achieve advocacy goals.
4. Terms of reference
To what extent human rights nonprofit organizations participate in the advocacy arena?
How human rights nonprofit organisations adopt issue management as a strategic process to adjust and influence public policies?
What are the most effective practices and strategies for human rights nonprofit organisations to achieve advocacy goals?
For the investigation process that will take place in order to answer the research question stated in the terms of reference, a qualitative research will be used. But as Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2007:134) emphasized, before starting any research “it is necessary to have a clear picture of the phenomena on which you wish to collect data prior to the collection of the data”.
The qualitative approach is the most suitable method as concisely addressed the research problem and provide the most appropriate methods of data collection and analysis. (Creswell, 2009). A qualitative research will offer the necessary tools to examine the extent of influence exerted by nonprofit advocacy groups in the policy arena. Also is the best way to identify any best strategies and practices used by nonprofit organisations in order to shape policies.
5.1 Data collection
The study will be conducted in UK and will use content analysis as the main method to collect necessary data. The researcher will analyze materials and Web sites of the organizations deemed effective policy proponents in the human rights field of the policy arena. Data will be draw from various materials like press releases and fact sheets.
In-depth, semi-structured interview will also be used as a method of data collection as this type of interview allow the researcher to investigate the issues and topic of interest in a flexible, two-way communication, informal way; the questions can vary for each participant, depending on their experience, the process of each interview and the participant responses. (Daymon and Holloway, 2002).
All interviews will be tape-recorded as it’s considered to be the the most reliable way of preserving the participants words appropriately; permission for doing this will be asked before setting up the interview. (Daymon and Holloway, 2002)
5.2 Data analysis
As Ghauri and Gronhaug (2005) emphasize, the data analysis of the qualitative research is mainly concerned about gaining insights and constructing explanations or theory. As this research will adopt a qualitative approach, all the collected data have to be transcribed, in order to reveal the richest data and to facilitate the comparison process. Data will be coded in order to link it to the theoretical concepts and frameworks presented in the literature review. (Daymon and Holloway, 2002)
Collis and Hussey (2003) argue that even if provides a more real basis for analysis and interpretation, qualitative methodology can be time consuming. The limitations of this research consists in finding and gaining access to all the necessary materials required for content analysis. Another impediment to be considered is the willingness of organisations and practitioners to participate in interviews and to share the information they have.
5.4 Ethical considerations
All possible ethical implications will be considered during the research. Identification data will be required for all the participants, althought confidentiality will be granted if participants will ask for it.
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