Here is a classic dilemma: many organisations in Europe encourage their partners in the South to engage in advocacy interventions, but how is it best to get started? Should you start your assistance by providing capacity building programmes first? Alternatively, should you prioritise the advocacy proper, focusing on the advocacy outcomes first and favouring on-the-job learning by your partners?

A well-reasoned way to overcome this dilemma would be a real nugget of wisdom. Unfortunately, I don’t know for sure what works best, but my choice would be to opt for on-the-job training. Here’s why I think this makes sense.


Trial-and-error approach

Advocacy approaches are comparable to steering a sailing boat: absolute beginners may need to learn the theory first before hitting open seas. But - if one is willing to accept a bit of collateral damage - the learning curve is certainly steeper if one gets to deal immediately with a real boat, real wind, waves and currents. The best boat for this real-life trial-and-error approach is appropriately named: the optimist.


Not absolute beginners

Most organisations in the South are not absolute beginners; rather, they have been active in advocacy and policy influencing for years. Some may not have done it consciously, and they may not have called it advocacy. Possibly it was never planned or budgeted for. Nonetheless, they all have engaged with institutions, authorities and other stakeholders to ensure their cooperation or remove obstacles for certain projects.


Learning on the go

Advocacy goals often require several loops to trigger the desired changes. Learning can better be provided to partners as a continuous flow of advice reaching them while they are holding the steering wheel. The lessons are then drawn from their own experience and can be applied immediately. Another advantage is that learning on the go combines results in terms of improved advocacy capacities of partner organisations with results of actual advocacy interventions. Beneficiaries and donors are often more eager to hear about those recent results!


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