What is advocacy?
Advocacy is essentially a set of organized and targeted actions carried out with the aim of influencing key decision-makers in relation to a specific issue. It may be about influencing policy, practice or attitudes.
Cochrane defines its approach to advocacy as:
“Cochrane will work with stakeholders (consumers and the public; practitioners; policy-makers and healthcare managers; researchers and research funders; guideline developers) to support evidence synthesis production and promote its use, with the aim of shifting attitudes towards evidence use; influencing policy, practice and behaviours; and ultimately achieving better health outcomes for society."
Advocacy can be proactive (developing campaigns based on a topic of importance) or reactive (monitoring and responding to external events or requests related to a topic of interest).
There are different advocacy styles and a range of tactics and activities that you might use as part of an advocacy campaign. There is no one ‘right’ approach – activities should be context- and audience-specific, and a campaign may involve a mixture of tactics.
Advocacy is not the same as general communications or profile or brand awareness raising, although communications can be used as an effective tool in support of advocacy campaigns.
Cochrane’s current advocacy priorities
Cochrane has identified two main advocacy priorities:
- Advocacy for high-quality evidence synthesis in health decision-making
- Advocacy for transparency and integrity in research
How will advocacy run at Cochrane?
The Central Executive Team (CET) is currently coordinating advocacy activities at the international level – monitoring external affairs to identify opportunities and, where appropriate, responding with statements, open letters, organizing meetings, or speaking at events. We plan to grow this work.
Most policy change happens at the national and (sub)regional levels, so if we are to be successful with advocacy, we will need Cochrane Groups and the wider community to participate. This could be through Groups supporting centrally-led advocacy campaigns or developing their own local campaigns.
The CET is available and keen to work with you in planning and adapting campaigns for your context, so please get in touch with Emma Thompson to let us know of your plans and if we can support you. Please also let us know if you identify potential advocacy opportunities, or if there are topics you think are important to develop campaigns on.
How does advocacy fit with Knowledge Translation?
Advocacy is about showing active support for an issue. It is not the same as Knowledge Translation (KT), though it is closely related.
Advocacy uses a similar skillset to KT, is about externally communicating positions of importance to Cochrane, forming alliances or working in partnerships, and will involve working with some of the same audiences, such as policy-makers and research funders.
Advocacy activities are not generally related to specific reviews.
Advocating for the role of systematic reviews in evidence-informed decision-making is part of Cochrane’s KT framework and involves working in partnerships with external stakeholders to try to build a culture of evidence, where using evidence is supported and embedded within institutions.
However, advocacy can also go beyond that – for example, on campaigning for greater research integrity and transparency.