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Effective Advocacy: Identify Key Actors

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The effective advocacy planning process:

A. Identify, examine, and understand the issue you want to address.
B. Identify the key actors and their roles and build relationships with appropriate actors.
C. Understand the system, what can be influenced, and what the leverage points are.
D. Develop goals and objectives.
E. Develop strategies, tactics, a plan of action, and a plan for evaluation.

To get a better sense of the problem, it’s important to identify the key actors (stakeholders and influencers) and their roles.

Take note iconWhen identifying key actors, be sure to include nonhuman animals and the natural world as relevant entities.


Identify and Analyze Key Actors

For each of the key actors, ask:

  • Who are they?
  • How are they behaving? Why are they behaving that way?
  • What do they say they want (or what do you surmise they want, if they cannot speak for themselves)?
  • What are their likely underlying motivations?
  • What are their likely unspoken needs/wants?
  • What are the likely barriers and constraints they experience?
  • What level of power do they have?
  • Where do they lie on the continuum of being allies or opponents?
  • What can they contribute? How can they best be involved (if relevant)?
  • What influence or connection do you already have with them?
  • What framing and values might resonate with them?
  • How can you best engage with them?

Download a pdf of a chart with these questions.

When you’re identifying the different categories of key actors, consider the following:

Category of Key ActorQuestions to Consider
Stakeholders (human, nonhuman, planetary)Who (visible and invisible) is affected by this issue?
Who has/needs a voice regarding this issue?
Who is advocating for them?
OppositionWho is against your goal and why?
What power structures and/or influencers do they have access to?
What framing and language do they use around this issue?
Decision makers/AuthorityWho actually has the power to take action/make a change on this issue?
How might those in power benefit from the change you want?
Allies/AdvocatesWhat fellow advocates, groups, partners, supporters, and volunteers can you work with?
Influencers/ChampionsWho can make a significant positive/negative difference?
Who might be willing to be a public voice/spokesperson for you?
How can you become an effective voice on the issue?
The Public (those who can sway decision makers)What does the public know about this issue?
What are their opinions about this issue and why?
What missing information or viewpoints does the public need?

To learn more about your key actors, you can use tools such as these:

Peel the Onion helps you gain a deeper understanding of stakeholders and how to work more effectively with (or against) them.

Spectrum of Allies helps you identify where various groups lie along a spectrum of support-to-opposition to help you determine how and when to engage with them.

Guide to Actor Mapping offers tools and insights (and sample maps) for depicting the key actors connected to your issue of concern.

A Stakeholder Analysis is another way to depict the key actors connected to your issue of concern and to develop strategies for how to engage with them.

If you want a much deeper dive into gaining insight into key actors, use some of these tools from Mobilisation Lab’s campaign accelerator guide.

Take note iconRemember to regularly engage with those affected by your problem of concern and to involve them in making decisions about how to solve the problem.

Build Relationships

An essential part of successful advocacy is building relationships with your key actors: stakeholders, allies, opponents, decision makers, those in authority who can influence the desired change, people with resources, volunteers, the public, and so on.

You’ll be building and maintaining these relationships before, during, and beyond your planning, implementation, and evaluation. Success doesn’t come from a single person’s efforts, so make building and maintaining relationships a priority.

Here are some things to consider when building relationships:

  • Turn to those who have already done work in this area and gain from their wisdom.
  • Listen to the people on “the margins,” both so that you understand the diversity of perspectives, and so that you are seeking sources of wisdom about the best changes to make.
  • Help those directly affected by the issue to build capacities for organizing, communicating, and advocating for themselves.
  • Share power.
  • Look for ways to unite multiple campaigns or interest groups around a bigger vision for dismantling harmful systems and institutions and creating better ones.
  • Review the work you’ve already done on key stakeholders, people with power, allies, etc., and use that knowledge to target key people and populations for getting help and support.
  • Look out for biases or preconceptions you may have about key actors and their participation or abilities.

When it comes to getting people specifically involved:

  • Be clear in what your vision, goals, objectives, and tactics are.
  • Keep people involved by ensuring that there’s always something for them to do. Offer a variety of options to allow for people’s unique needs and circumstances (e.g., social anxiety or lack of experience).
  • Be sure that your asks are concrete, reasonable, and have a logical desired outcome.
  • Be clear about expectations and roles.
  • Start with easier actions and escalate participation opportunities.
  • Keep people updated, and take time to explain the how’s and why’s. People want to know that their actions matter.
  • Maintain transparency and integrity.
  • Remove obstacles to participation whenever possible (e.g., provide childcare and transportation; choose meeting and action times that consider people’s schedules and their obligations to other human and nonhuman beings).
  • Show appreciation regularly.
  • Make sure people feel heard and welcomed.



How We Win by George Lakey
Involving People Most Affected by the Problem” by Community Tool Box

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