Ict@innovation: Free your IT Business in Africa/3-2

Module 3.2 Advocating FOSS edit

Duration edit


Delivery method edit

For instructional purpose, it is advised that trainers/lectures use lectures, punctuated with short debates as a major means of delivering this module. In addition presentations and exercises are also suitable method of delivery for this module.

Implementing FOSS Advocacy Initiative edit

Advocacy is the pursuit of influencing outcomes — including public-policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions — that directly affect people’s current lives. Therefore, advocacy can be seen as a deliberate process of speaking out on issues of concern in order to exert some influence on behalf of ideas or persons.

Types of AdvocacyThere are many kinds of advocacy: public education, voter and candidate education, issue research and analysis, policy education, organizing and mobilizing, judicial advocacy, executive advocacy (also known as administrative advocacy), and legislative lobbying (including both direct lobbying and grass roots lobbying).

Why Advocacy is ImportantAdvocacy helps to shape public opinion and public policy and in doing so can lead to systemic, long-lasting change. Advocacy can also lead to innovation and/or efficiencies, new resources, stronger community voices, increased community participation, and desirably the achievement of FOSS goals.

Defining Public Policy:

  • Public policy is a set of agreements among official stakeholders about how government shall address social needs and problems and spend public funds.
  • Elected and appointed leaders articulate public policy and embed it in many different policy instruments such as laws, regulations, and judicial findings.

How Advocacy Relates to Public Policy

  • Advocacy encompasses a broad range of activities that identify, embrace, and promote needed social changes.
  • These changes often require alterations in public perceptions and public policy.
  • To advance change in public perceptions and public policy effectively, advocacy efforts must focus on particular arenas of policy influence.
  • Advocacy for public policy change involves a set of activities all designed to influence decisions. These decisions are embedded into various policies, laws, regulations, budgets etc. The are many ways to achieve this for instance through protest, media, public education, lobbying etc. These forms of advocacy are suited to particular situation and have own advantages and disadvantages. Below is a diagram showing typical intervention points in advocacy and the associated policy vehicles they seek to influence.


In general, as can be seen, both PR and advocacy campaigns need to piggyback on larger current public campaigns.

For instance in Zambia, when School Management Board issued a statement to the Education Minister on the prohibitive cost of rolling out e-Learning in public schools due to high software costs, and the call to explore alternative Open solutions, this suddenly raised the public awareness of FOSS and the potential for government adoption, this gives an opportunity for local advocates to garner greater media attention.

For advocacy to be successful and realize its objectives two things needs to be considered;

Think broader edit

When embarking on advocacy campaign its useful to recognize that government has much larger public interest to protect. This in itself presents some difficulties because while you as a promoter could be justified and motivated by very clear and indisputable evidence of benefits adopting a particular FOSS related policy, government on the other hand may not because their interest are justifiably or not, much broader and complex.

Usually its advisable to consult with organizations that have undertaken advocacy before or better still speak to your local parliamentarians for advice. In general, like all other software, adoption of FOSS in Government must address issues that concerns a government such as:1) National Security2) Developing Local Capacity3) Reducing of Import and foreign exchange4) Avoid penalties on Piracy and International Intellectual Property rights5) It could be easily localized in a minimal cost6) Reducing Total Cost of Ownership

One of the very interesting resources on FOSS adoption in Government is published by the United Nations Development Programme’s – International Open Source Network or IOSN.net. The “FOSS Government and Policy Primer[#_edn1 [i]]” is of relevance to this module.

Be clear about what you selling edit

Often advocates of FOSS try to sell the FOSS solutions by focusing on the advantages of FOSS rather that to focus on the functionality of FOSS. Of course this is not particularly a bad idea but as experience as shown, this is never a winnable argument, because soon you find yourself embroiled in a unwarranted argument with your audience about how short or long the list of advantage/disadvantages is. Take an example of a person whose job function involve capturing sensitive patience medical records and safely store them in pdf format. If for a small fee, labor charge for installing and basic training in OpenOffice, he or she is perfectly happy, and no questions asked, why labor the discourse on Acrobat and MS Word.

So if you can avoid it, please avoid it.

Yes admittedly, FOSS major selling point has historically been that there are no software license fees payable for FOSS or what is recently been but the biggest advantage surely is the freedom to choose whatever software the user needs, without being "locked" in by a vendor - provided that the software chosen adhere to interoperability standards.

Developing Advocacy Tactics edit

Once you have an advocacy strategy in place, you can start to make more detailed decisions about how to achieve your policy goals. Some of the most important decisions you will make when implementing an advocacy strategy are:

  1. Is it media advocacy, public education, protest, lobbying etc?
  2. What messages you will send to your target audience?
  3. What language (cultural and group sensitive messages) will you use in your advocacy message?
  4. Timing: Which days, seasons, national and international days, local events are most suitable for 'pulling the advocacy trigger'?
  5. How you will work with others in advocacy?

Developing and Delivering Messages edit

Delivering messages persuasively to your primary target audience lies at the heart of any advocacy initiative. The key to good message delivery is to know, as much as possible, about your target audience.

Messages are a critical element of any advocacy strategy. Even with convincing facts and political trends on your side, most advocacy efforts will likely fail without clear, simple messages that appeal to target audiences.

Crafting a message for an advocacy initiative must always fit into the advocacy planning process. But, developing messages is also a continuous part of an advocacy initiative. Messages inevitably need to be revised as you learn more about your policy issue and what appeals to your target audiences. In addition, advocacy may require multiple messages when there is more than one target audience. This section covers some methods to follow to create and use messages effectively.

Develop clear and compelling messages.

A message explains what you are proposing, why it is worth doing, and the positive impacts of your policy proposal. A few rules can help you choose the content of your message wisely.

Deliver messages effectively.

When you deliver a message, you want your target audience to agree with it and

then take action on your proposal. For this to happen, you must ensure they will

understand your message and believe your message. You also need to think about

how to ensure they receive your message.

Reinforce messages.

Usually, delivering a message once is not enough. Always have a strategy to

reinforce your message, either yourself, or through others. When you re-send your

message, you can also use the opportunity to respond to any concerns expressed by

your target audience.

Examples of Advocacy Messages edit

Advocacy messages can be written or spoken, and can be delivered in many formats. The following are formats that could be used as part of the advocacy campaign to adopt FOSS in Educational and Training.

Target Audiences Key Message Format of Advocacy Message
Local Representative Enacting an Open Content policy for all education and training initiatives will raise government the chances of achieving universal access and improve political popularity of the Representative Send a letter to the local member of parliament documenting the restrictions inherent in proprietary software and show how this limit access to useful educational content to many school going children
School or educational Boards and Parent Teachers Associations Universal Education is a right of every Child Propose a Meeting to discuss school performances and inform them about the possibilities and potential benefits of FOSS
Fellow FOSS businesses A potential market for educational FOSS solutions Set up a website and start an online discussion to exchange information about the key issues to present to your representative

What goes into an Advocacy message? edit

Advocacy messages should capture the essence of what you are trying to say to a target audience. In just a few sentences, a message should communicate why your issue is important and what you want others to do on behalf of your cause.

It should also give the target audience a clear choice of actions and suggest the consequences of those actions. Your message should be clear, whether verbal or in writing, and it should be appropriate to the social and cultural context where you work. Your message should suggest what will happen if your target audience takes no action – or chooses a different policy option.

The goal is for your message to explain why your idea is best.

As you develop the content of your advocacy messages, there are two rules to keep in mind.

1. Know your audience. Good messages sometimes require a little research. Try to learn how you can best influence each of your target audiences. Each message should take into account the interests, ideas, and knowledge of those receiving the message.

2. Keep it simple. Messages should be short, just a few sentences or less. If you deliver too many messages, your audience might forget them. Limit it to one, and focus on your best supporting arguments, rather than a long list of reasons to support your proposal.

What you need to know about your target audience edit

What does it mean to "know your audience"? Of course, this isn’t always possible, but you can take time to learn about the interests, attitudes, and positions of your target audience, even without meeting them. For example, here are some things that you can try to learn before you develop your message:

About your Target audience... Specifically...
* What are their political interests?
  • What are their self-interests in relation to the issue?
  • How much information do they already have about your issue?
  • Do they already have an opinion?
  • What objections might they have to your position? What could they lose as a result of your proposal?
  • What are their personal interests?
  • Do their backgrounds (personal, educational or professional) suggest a bias or position?

* What group of people do they represent?
  • Do you need to clear up any miss-perceptions, or counter opposing arguments?
  • Are you telling them something they already know? What NEW information are you offering?
  • What is it, how strongly held?
  • Have they already voted or taken a public position on your issue?
  • What are their hobbies or “passions” outside of work? What do they do in their spare time?
  • Can you link your issue to something you know they do support?

Networking for information edit

When gathering the information you need about your target audience, two effective approaches to try are internal and external networking.

The most immediately available source of information you have is your own colleagues. Internal networking is the process of using resources within your own Organization to get the information you need.

In addition to your sources within the organization, there is a whole world of information out there. External networking is the process of asking people you know outside your organization for information about your target audience.

Internal networking - Often, your colleagues can help you make contact with others who know something about your target audience. For example, if you are working on a educational issue, someone you know may have a contact within the Ministry of Education who can tell you what you need to know.

The clearer you are about what information you are seeking about your target audience (and why), the easier it will be for people to help you.

External networking - Even when your goal is to get information from outside your organization, it may be best to start with those closest to you. Do you or your colleagues have personal contacts within other partner organizations that have information about your target audience? Are there people you could approach at NGO coordination meetings who might have some information? If your own contacts have limited information, do they have ideas about who you could call to learn more?

If your target audience is someone in the community, keep an eye out for announcements of public meetings that may be held in your area. Attending these kinds of meetings also may help you to identify other groups who are involved in your issue.

Being clear

A message is only effective if the targets of your advocacy can understand what you are asking them to do – exactly. Once you have developed the content of your messages, there are at least two things to ask yourself.

  • First, have you chosen language your audience can understand? For example, have you used jargon, technical terminology, or “NGO-speak”? Sometimes, it can be helpful to try out your message on someone who isn’t in your line of work (like a family member, or a friend).
  • Second, will your audience know what action to take if they agree with you? For example, is your goal for them to make a decision, call someone, vote a certain way, change a corporate practice, or convince others to support your proposal?

Deliver messages strategically edit

Credibility means that other people trust and value what you have to say. We have already discussed credibility as a prerequisite for advocacy. It is also something you need to consider when you are deciding how to deliver a message and who delivers it. Some things you can do to establish your credibility when delivering a message are:

Know the facts- Conducting analysis, learning from organizations that do have credibility, or initiating programming that helps you gain expertise are three ways to build up credibility.

Document the problem- Either yourself or your partner organizations can offer valuable information about problems concerning discriminatory software procurement procedures in public institutions. In some cases, it may be appropriate to document and share this information in ways that are useful to policy makers (the expert informant role). When sharing evidence of a problem, the information must be accurate and reliable. This is vital for the maintenance of ones credibility.

Choose the best messenger- Just like your target audience is a person, so is the messenger. When delivering an advocacy message, you need to determine who will be the most credible source in the eyes of the target audience. Sometimes policy skills are important, but other times first-hand knowledge of the problem, technical expertise, or seniority within an organization matter more. Also, it can be effective to have two messengers who complement each another: one knowledgeable about the subject matter and the other knowledgeable about the target audience.

Employing Advocacy Tactics edit

Communicating ideas and negotiating with others are things we do in the course of our professional and personal lives, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not. Working with the media can be highly effective in advocacy, especially when you need to reach a large audience with your message.

Successful advocacy often rests on the ability to communicate effectively, either verbally or in writing. This below are some useful tips on how to use two common advocacy formats: letters and group presentations.

Advocacy Letters

A letter is a good way to deliver your message, especially if you do not have a personal relationship with your target audience. An advantage of a letter is that it creates a record of your position. But, keep in mind; it is quite possible that others will see what you have written, such as your opponents, members of the public, or the media. These are factors you need to balance.

When sending a letter, try to find out how to ensure your audience is most likely to read it (i.e. should you use mail, fax, or e-mail)? If others support your position, consider asking them to sign the letter along with you. Before writing a letter, be clear whether you are writing in order to receive a response, or mainly to register your opinion.

An advocacy letter should contain the following elements:

1. Proper salutation. Always address your audience appropriately, and according to their proper title.

2. Leading paragraph. State your purpose for writing the letter and deliver your message immediately. Don’t be afraid to put your request for action up-front.

3. Information about yourself. Explain who you are and who you are representing (CARE, a member of a coalition, yourself as a private citizen, etc.). If your audience does not know you well, make it clear how you are connected to the issue you are raising.

4. Supporting arguments. Make a few supporting arguments for your request (typically no more than three). Refer to established facts and positions taken by respected groups. Use statistics strategically, but sparingly. Provide evidence that others support your views.

5. Request for action. Be very specific about what you are asking the reader to do. If requesting a meeting, offer to follow up soon to arrange a time.

6. Acknowledgment of your audience. Recognize your reader as someone whose opinion matters. Thank him or her for taking time to read your letter and show your appreciation for any past support. Offer to provide additional information or assistance in the future.

7. Attachments (optional). In some cases, if you have particularly compelling information that supports your request, you can include it as an attachment. However, try to keep attachments short, recognizing that most policy-makers are too busy to read lengthy reports.

Module 3.2: ASSESSMENT edit

Discussion 1: Discuss some of the advocacy tactics mentioned above taking views and arguments from the group about when a particular tactic might be appropriate in achieving an advocacy goal.

Assignment 1 Working in small groups, identify an issue within your business area of interest that affects you and potentially reduce your chances of meeting your mission. Briefly and concisely state what the issue is on a piece of paper and present them to the class.

Assignment 2: Based on the issue identified in Discussion 1 above, identify existing statutes/policy/policies, regulations etc. in your individual countries which need to be reviewed, formulated or enacted. Discuss within the group the affected statutes, policy, regulations clearly identifying the weakness, omissions etc that need to be addressed (Note that policy formulation is highly specialized areas of work and any actual drafting, interpretations etc require involvement of specialists). 

At the end of the discussion, one member of the group must present the outcome of the group discussion in a class plenary session. Allow for discussion and comments.

Assignment 3. Write a letter to your local parliamentarian clearly and concisely advocating for FOSS. In your letter, make it clear what you are requesting the reader to do.

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