Judging by their actions, many advocates seem to take opposition critics as their role model for advocacy. Wrong. Opposition political parties oppose everything that is advanced or proposed by the Government. Every idea/issue/announcement invites an opportunity for the Opposition to raise questions about the Government's fitness to stay in power; about the need for a Minister to resign; about how they have misread the electorate etc. They can take statements out of context or choose an insignificant issue to expose the Government's vulnerability. The criticism can get heated and theatrical.
Opposing is the central function of the Opposition's job description. They are expected to be fiercely partisan. They are not required to come up with solutions or alternatives until the next election campaign.
And dare I remind us, often when they attain power these same politicians discover the reasonableness on some of the very issues they spent months and years criticizing.
Opposition critics should not be our role models for solution based
advocacy. I get concerned when I watch advocacy groups with important issues seemingly adopt the stance of Opposition critic. I cringe when I watch them sling away with impunity not just on the issues they are concerned with, but the moral fitness of the Government to stay in power. I am not naive. Governments make bad decisions and do need to be criticized. And in some cases we may have to be very creative ( protests, campaigns) to get government's attention – the first step (but only the first step) in solution based advocacy. But we should leave the opposition to the Opposition. Mother Theresa would never march against war. She would however march for peace.
Here are some effective ways to undo bad decisions; help government make make better decisions and ensure you and your constituency are part of the solution:
- Acknowledge what they have done right,or that they are moving in the right direction. Most
of us cannot hear or receive an idea or suggestion no matter how reasonable and
constructive if we have just been criticized. Politicians and public servants are no different.
- Acknowledge the nature of the problem, government is confronting. Research the nature of the challenge from their point of view. Ignoring their realities does not establish your credibility as a problem solver.
- Let them know you are willing to roll up your sleeves and help solve the problem. Propose a solution to the situation. Or a process to work together on solutions. Governments find it hard to back down on the original decision. So re-frame the issue and make
them an alternate proposal. A task force to stabilize arts funding could be an attractive alternative to protesting cutbacks in arts spending. And it could lead to a different relationship between you, your membership and government. Be creative and constructive not predictable with your solutions.
All governments today are experiencing financial challenges. Reminding them of their previous bad spending decisions, or not accepting their current financial reality, means your ideas or concerns stand a good chance of being ignored. Proposing alternate financing solutions like many social entrepreneurs do, will get their attention. Leveraging government funding to attract new money; or identifying new funding partners will signal your intention to be constructive.
Unlike the strait jacketed role of Opposition critic, solution based advocacy gives your creativity an opportunity to flourish.
NOTE: This is one of a series of posts I am writing on solutions based advocacy. Click on the Advocacy category on the right side of your screen and you can read them all.