Advocating for Change

As your group works through the CPF School Self-Assessment Instrument, you will notice that some indicators identify policies and procedures that are determined at the school board or Department of Education level. In these cases, simply complete the assessment instrument as though the school had the responsibility and make a note that someone else has greater control over this indicator. Your action plan around these indicators might include an advocacy component; bringing issues to the attention of those responsible and working with them to effect positive change. The following model is designed to help you to develop action plans to address some of the issues that might arise.

Developing Action Plans for your School

You will find that some issues are quickly and simply addressed (for example, teachers may volunteer to record hours of instruction in French; students might organize a display of core and immersion projects in a public area of the school), while other issues require a good deal of planning, co-ordination and advocacy to achieve long-term goals (for example, developing time tables to ensure that choosing immersion and/or core French options does not preclude enrolment in other popular course options; information gathering and advocating for special education and remedial services for immersion students).

Developing a formal Action Plan to identify “next steps” will help bring you that much closer to a better self-assessment next year and may help you to resolve long-standing issues with your FSL programs.

Advocacy Strategies

Phase 1: Prepare

Define the issue(s). You have already defined your advocacy issues by completing the CPF School Self-Assessment Tool and identifying those areas that cannot be addressed at the school level.

Gather Information. Once the key issues have been identified, it is time to gather information. For each issue, the important questions to answer include:

  • What, if any, existing resources address the problem?
  • Who are the key people to approach for help in rectifying the problem? To be successful, you must have a thorough knowledge of your surroundings – prevailing attitudes towards the issue(s), types of alternatives, etc.
  • Who has strong links and influence regarding the issue? Have there been any previous school or board advocacy efforts involving the same or related issue? Find out what strategies were used, who was involved and what the results were.

Identify supporters (if required). Now that your information has been gathered, it is time to begin identifying potential supporters. Try to attract support from those who are affected by the issue and from decision-makers who could resolve the issue. If you are having difficulty gaining support, stop until you have had an opportunity to re-think your issue. Perhaps the circumstances and timing aren’t right or your presentation is off-track. Find out!

Phase 2: Plan

Review the issue and identify the preferred solution.

Before developing the Action Plan, review the work carried out in the preparation phase. Start by reviewing the issue: what is it, why is it a problem, who does it affect and how does it affect them?

Now identify the preferred solution. Be as specific as possible. Anticipate possible outcomes of your efforts, defining the changes that will take place, and who and how they will affect. Consider both the desired end and how you wish to influence the awareness and attitudes of decision-makers. You may wish to state the outcomes you would like to achieve:

  • Short term: what is a realistic level to achieve within the next year while continuing to work toward the ideal?
  • Long term: if the advocacy effort is successful, what is the ideal condition in the future?

Choose the route

Once the preferred solution has been selected, take stock of resources and identify the appropriate systems, groups and individuals that can make the solution happen.

If advocacy is required, remember that approaching the wrong person in an organization wastes time and causes frustration. Don’t expect someone to change something if they have no influence in that area. Reach the people within the organization who actually have the authority to make the changes you are requesting. Consider the following:

  • What is their track record on similar issues?
  • Who are likely to be your strongest supporters and who is likely to oppose the issue?
  • What concerns are most important to the supporters and opponents?
  • How does your issue relate to these concerns? How can you appeal to both groups most effectively?

Be prepared and anticipate the arguments that might be put forth in opposing your issue. Develop a strategy to counter these arguments. Be able to clearly demonstrate how the issue is creating problems.

Develop the Advocacy Action Plan

You know what the issue is; you know how you want it resolved; and you know whom best to approach to achieve your goal. Now is the time to develop your action plan.

As you begin to develop your approach, avoid selecting a specific course of action too soon. Brainstorm and be as creative as possible. List every potential strategy and action idea. However, set a time limit of 30 minutes, to ensure a concentrated effort.

You have already identified the organizations and individuals to approach in seeking resolution of the issue. As strategies are selected, it is important to understand your target audience to ensure a good fit between your proposals and their goals and philosophy.

Now, select the strategies that will be most effective, keeping in mind that it is often necessary to educate your target group.

In order to achieve a favourable resolution of the issue, you should prepare back-up strategies in case the first plan fails. Be sure to include strategies aimed at reaching non-supporters.

Formalize the action plan and organize its implementation

Start by examining your group with a view to deciding how best to organize, to achieve your goal. You could develop a committee structure and assign each committee a number of tasks or simply assign each task to an individual or small group.

Phase 3: Act (Implement the Action Plan)

The specific steps in this phase depend on your issue(s). Follow the action steps developed previously. Keep a note about what goes smoothly and what doesn’t work, and comment as to why. This information will be useful when evaluating the Plan and for future reference.

If you are advocating for change, remember to take a positive approach while fostering support. Keep your supporters aware of what is happening as interest can wane without follow-up. Timing is critical, so select the opportune moment to put your plan into action. Ideally, try not to compete with other issue(s).

When presenting the issue, find out what process the School Board or Ministry uses to deal with issues. Remember that the process may be time-consuming. Be prepared to take additional information to meetings and always take a written brief of your presentation. Include a copy for those to whom you are presenting.

During the presentation be positive and professional. An antagonistic stance will not encourage the decision-makers to react favourably to your issue. Make them feel that it is their issue as well and stress that you have faith in their ability to address the issue. Don’t expect a decision right away.

Phase 4: If All Else Fails…

Despite being prepared, you can still run into roadblocks. Don’t drop the issue, but avoid making a personal attack on the individual or group. Acknowledge that you have a difference of opinion and leave the door open for a possible reconciliation.

If your target group denies that the issue is a problem present your facts and figures, point out that your concerns fall under their mandate, and ask them to support their belief that the issue is not a problem.

If your issue is deemed to be of low priority bring your supporters to subsequent meetings, present your facts and, if your assessment group feels it to be appropriate, arrange media coverage.

If you are told that there is no money to address your issue point out that resolving the issue will save money, offer to assist with fundraising and be prepared to find as many funding sources as possible.

If you are experiencing delaying tactics set reasonable deadlines for action and do periodic follow-up and progress checks. If you are asked to join a committee that historically hasn’t produced any results, accept the offer and work to add substance and meaning to the committee’s activities. Continue to focus on the issue and make constructive suggestions for resolving it. By offering to cooperate with the decision-makers, you open the door to a positive reception of your issue. Give them a chance to change their minds gracefully.

Phase 5: Evaluate

Review each step in your action/advocacy plan and determine whether it was implemented as it was originally designed. If not, note how the steps were modified and ask the following questions. Was the key issue clearly defined? Was the most appropriate solution chosen? Which strategies worked? Were there adequate resources to carry out the plan? Were the most appropriate advocacy target chosen? Was the timing appropriate? Were the presentations effective? Were decision-makers convinced that change is necessary?

Remember that many first efforts are not successful. Have patience and remember that your efforts will have an effect over time.

See also:

Key Principles of Advocacy