Advocacy Research and Its Importance
In order to persuade policy-makers to change their policies, laws or implementation – be this through direct lobbying or other means such as provoking an official investigation or influencing public opinion – you will need information. To obtain this, you will have to do some research. That could mean anything from combing through piles of documents in the office or a library, to searching the Internet, to taking photos and talking to witnesses. This is all research.
In fact, research is any systematic investigation to discover facts or collect information.
If research is to be useful to policymakers, it will need to be:
General - Providing extensive background information, not just selective cases and anecdotes.
Accessible and Easily Understandable - A body of good evidence, presented in a user-friendly format, and collated and analyzed.
Targeted - Findings are presented in multiple formats, tailored to each audience, with information needs of policy makers (content and format) being taken into account.
Relevant - Appropriate to their area of work, priorities and interests.
Measurable – Incorporating facts, figures and statistics. Timely – Provided at the right time, and using up-to-date information.
Practically Useful – Grounded in reality, and providing practical, feasible and cost effective solutions.
Objective – Gathered from objective sources, without unsubstantiated value judgments or emotional arguments.
Accurate - Providing a true and fair representation of the facts.
Credible - Reliable, sourced appropriately, using accepted tools and methods.
Authoritative - Carried out by an organization that policy makers perceive as credible and reliable.
General background information helps to place the issue in context, providing the ‘bigger picture’ against which the local problem can be examined – for example: by providing facts and figures, or researching the international and regional dimensions of a problem (for instance: international animal welfare standards; regional animal welfare conventions or regulations; or a comparison with the situation in other countries).
Research also helps to personalize your issue and build empathy. You can do this by using methods such as undercover investigations showing individual animal suffering involved; case studies; quotations from witnesses; photo or video evidence etc.
Effective research should:
- Focus on a problem that directly affects the welfare of animals
- Be linked to your program work
- Look into the root causes of problems in order to identify workable solutions
- Analyze the policy environment to uncover implementation gaps
- Link local, national, regional & international aspects
- Collect evidence in a systematic way
The key is that evidence is collected in a rigorous and systematic way.
Categories of Research
There are two categories of research:
- Quantitative – statistical techniques, surveys/market research, experimental techniques
- Can be useful to illustrate scale of problem and/or when you want to generalize about an issue or sector (e.g. the views of 'consumers' or 'voters/public'.)
- Qualitative - views, opinions, and beliefs
- Useful for 'softer' aspects, difficult to quantify (e.g. using focus groups)
Data and Its Sources
The difference between data and information is that data is raw, unprocessed whilst information is in an accessible, meaningful form.
Some useful sources are:
- Internet (range of information ever-increasing
- National and local agencies
- Government information and statistics and other 'public records' (Freedom of information legislation is a great help here)
- Legislation and precedents (e.g. court cases)
- Trade associations/trade journals/trade e-mail lists/conferences
- Other NGOs, including animal welfare societies
- Exhibitions and conferences
- News media
- Opinion Polls
- A national library (or large public library) is probably the widest ranging source of published information
Always make sure to reference your research, so readers can check your sources. In general, what you are trying to achieve is that any reader can clearly see the source of your research (and look this up themselves, if they wish to). There are various formats for referencing your research. One of the most widely used systems of referencing is the APA system (created by the American Psychological Association system, but now used internationally).
Research helps you to gain a clear understanding of the causes and effects of animal welfare issues from the perspective of identifying practical and feasible policy solutions that make it possible to build a consensus in favor for change. It is impossible to argue logically and coherently for policy change without the strong understanding of your issue that research provides.
[In some cases, the only solution to prevent severe animal suffering may be a ban on the practice (e.g. abolition of gin traps). In this case, the evidence of the animal suffering must be strong and graphic in order to convince influential stakeholders.]
Research is the foundation for successful advocacy. It is important for both:
- An effective advocacy strategy - by enabling thorough strategic analysis; and
- Successful advocacy work - by providing authoritative and accurate evidence to support advocacy.
Advocacy research can:
- Give your advocacy substance
- Establish your reputation as an expert on the issue
- Provide feasible and workable solutions to your issue
- Provide you with case studies, anecdotes and examples to make your issue 'come alive'
- Provide cost-benefit arguments, including the (often hidden) cost of alternatives and inaction
- Demonstrate public support or public concern
- Help you to analyze your issue from different perspectives
- Help to disprove myths, rumors and false assumptions
- Analyze and provide counter arguments to positions held by stakeholders who may not be sympathetic to your cause
- Provide evidence for your positions
- Explain why previous strategies have or have not worked
- Provide the basis for media and public awareness work
Do not sweep data under the carpet if it does not support your case! Anticipate and unearth the arguments against you and deal with them in your advocacy work and reports.
It is said that every dollar spent on research is worth ten spent on lobbying. If your research is thorough, it will be easier to develop a winning advocacy strategy.