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Gathering Support and Neutralizing Opposition


Build Your Support Base
Neutralize Your Opposition
Use Effective Arguments
Understanding and Exploiting Weaknesses
Understand and Counter Prejudices


Two tried and tested ways of gaining policy influence are to:

  • Build up your support base - gather allies
  • Neutralize your opposition - weaken your opposition (strategically or tactically)

Advocacy Tool

Tool 9. Force Field Analysis
Use this tool to map the strengths of the actors who support change, and those who resist change.

Build Your Support Base

Formal linkages with other organizations (coalitions, networks and alliances) are dealt with in Module 4 – Networking & Alliances - but this is not the only way to increase your support base. Other options are to:

  • Obtain messages of support from influential organizations and individuals
  • Persuade other organizations and influential individuals to take on board your issue (even if this is not their primary issue, and they are not interested in joint advocacy)
  • Persuade donors (or international organizations) to raise your issue in negotiations with decision makers

It is often easier to obtain this sort of support if your issue is high profile or popular. Media coverage can raise its profile, and thus its support base. Celebrities and high profile individuals can be keen to be associated with the ‘issues of the day’, as this will help their popularity.

Networks and alliances are usually formed from like-minded organizations, but unusual allies can also be useful to an advocacy campaign. Whilst motivations for support may differ, it will help your cause if more organizations are pressing for the same outcomes. For example, national slaughterhouses may support a campaign to ban the export of live animals. Think outside the box when considering potential allies – but beware of any potential risk to your reputation through ‘unholy alliances’.

Neutralize Your Opposition

As regards neutralizing your opposition, this entails knowing them well, in particular: their beliefs, motivations, weaknesses and limitations. You can neutralize by:

  • Exposing falsehoods (destroying arguments)
  • Refuting their points (answering arguments)

Both of these can be done verbally or practically (e.g. by using pilot studies).

You can also make the opposition a target of your advocacy, trying to convert them to your solutions.

Use Effective Arguments

A range of arguments can be used in support of different issues e.g.:

  • Altruistic: For the sake of those affected
  • Moral/ethical: It is morally right
  • International acceptance: As above, but playing on a country's desire for international acceptance and regard (particularly useful when there are international conventions or standards)
  • Democracy: The 'people want it'
  • Protecting the country's 'heritage': For example, as regards the protection of indigenous animals, or their habitats
  • Social/humanistic: Failure to act could have an adverse impact upon society, sectors of society, or the country’s individuals
  • Public health: protecting public or animal health
  • Ownership/responsibility: Encouraging responsibility
  • Economic: Economic costs of inaction

NB. It is often the case that whilst the higher arguments hold more moral force, the lower arguments hold more sway (as they directly affect vested interests). Influence can be gained through understanding these different arguments, and being able to use them effectively.

Understanding and Exploiting Weaknesses

When you research your targets and opposition you will come across weaknesses (personal or role) that can be strategically exploited in order to gain influence. These might include:

  • Elected politicians – Ego and vanity (play on their desire for profile, publicity and votes)
  • Politicians aides – Intrigue and influence (use their skill at politics and influencing)
  • Bureaucrats – Lethargy/laziness (use their desire to save work and effort)
  • Opposition – The ‘ethical watchdog’ (use their role of watching and exposing government)

Of course, these are simple generalizations. It is always preferable to know individuals, rather than making broad assumptions.

As far as political influence is concerned, remember that election time is ‘crazy season’! Prospective politicians will agree to much more, if they feel it will be beneficial to their election campaign. But consider very carefully before you make deals with politicians. You need to be committed to your cause for the long-term, and with credibility. You will need to be sure that any short-term deals do not bring risks to your work.

Understand and Counter Prejudices

You will come across various prejudices as you try to influence others on your issue. These may include the following:

  • Your issue seen as marginal issue
  • Your issue seen as low priority (to be tackled ‘later’)
  • Your issue seen as a luxury consideration

Possible ways to overcome/answer these prejudices are:

  • Opinion surveys (polls) to demonstrate popular support
  • Show that the situation can improve without substantial cost
  • Show the potential costs of inactivity
  • Refer to neighboring countries where the issue has been addressed – use national pride (‘Our country is lagging behind’)

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