Advocacy 101

One of the most challenging parts of advocacy is knowing how to get started, solidifying your goals, and making the most effective change possible, particularly when dealing with policy-makers. Emeritus Professor of Public Health Simon Chapman AO is a friend of the Academy, and ran a session at our ACAH2022 Conference in Sydney focussing on

exactly this. Here are some of the highlights from his talk.


Paraphrased (with consent) from his plenary at ACAH2022, Sydney

Why bother with Advocacy?

For most, we aim ultimately to improve health outcomes by:

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Providing evidence to reform health care practice

Influencing individual health practices

Counteracting actions of those whose interests are damaging to public health

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Influencing public agenda – (what’s important & what’s not)

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Influencing policy (laws, regulations, direct funding)

NOT just ladder-climbing in specialised academic echo-chambers

Some things when getting started
  • Know what you want – what would your Christmas stocking wish-list for policy & practice change look like?
  • Be available – keep your phone on so you can be called on at any time! Available people become regularly-interviewed people.
  • Collect sets of mega-killer-facts that you can rattle off whenever you need – do them in sets of three as these for some reason are easy for people to digest/remember.
  • Do an absolutely ruthless audit of the pros and cons of the issue, and don’t hold back. Anticipate the things that will risk turning the debate against you, and plan how you will deal with them.
  • Understanding the critical role of framing meaning in debate
  • Share, steal and reuse slides and graphics that work!
  • Engage with media – social media, blogging etc as well as formal print and TV/radio
  • Successful advocacy takes a lot of time, sometimes it doesn’t work overnight
  • Grow a rhino-like hide, you need to be able to handle all the unfounded insults that eventually come your way
  • If you can’t fix all the problems, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tackle any of them
When trying to lobby/deal with policy makers
  • If you want to change policy, then you are in the business of politics. Be ok with being in politics.
  • Policy-makers like dealing with a person who has competence, integrity, and benevolence. Be that person. They will want you to be helpful. Come to them with suggestions.
  • Likeability, friendliness, generosity and sense of humour – these are important factors as belligerence won’t get you everywhere.
  • Don’t treat policy-makers like academic colleagues in your own echo-chamber, because they are not.
  • When you speak to policymakers, they will ask you three key questions: What did your study find? Who’s responsible for fixing it? What needs to be done? BE PREPARED TO ANSWER THESE