By CODE-NGO, member of Forus in the Philippines

CODE-NGO banks on the breadth and depth of its network to do advocacy work. With a 12 member-networks (MNs) representing 1,600 base civil society organizations (CSOs), indeed CODE-NGO is considered a major network by partners from academia, government, and fellow CSOs. But how can such a vast network work together in common advocacies? This was the aim of the Advocacy Working Groups (AWGs), institutionalized in the CODE-NGO network since 2018.

The AWGs are composed of CODE-NGO members and their representatives. The group carries out plans and activities related to their advocacy. In 2017 the CODE-NGO network through the 6th Congress ratified the strategic plan for 2018 to 2022 that identifies 5 priority advocacies, namely 1) Asset Reform, 2) CSO Good Governance, 3) Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation, 4) Participatory Local Governance and 5) Peace.

To boost the AWGs, CODE-NGO is supported by a national project in partnership with Forus, with financial support from the French Development Agency and the European Union starting from December 2018 until June 2020. Major activities implemented with the support include communication planning with the 5 AWGs. Each AWG came up with communication messages and strategies based on their respective advocacy plans, which should be doable within the project duration. 

Crafting a communication plan and prioritizing key messages is no mean feat as most of the advocates in the network have different appreciations of how to “communicate” their campaigns. The advocates realize that lobbying and dialogue forms one part of many aspects of communications campaigns, especially in the era of social media. Apart from the tools available is the strategy of communicating the message that should be planned. 

In both advocacy and communications, the objective is to change behaviors and increase awareness, such as to stop or pass a bill into law, to stop certain negative behaviors like harassment and corruption, or to promote others such as inclusiveness and participation. 

To achieve this objective, advocates prepare by learning about their audience or target group and customizing their approaches to fit the audience’s needs. The communication plan focuses on messages directed to target groups, and identifies the “messenger” who may be a person or a group. The communication planning process became a process of self-discovery as we reviewed who we are, what we stand for, and how we brand ourselves to our partners.

As of now, the AWGs are active more than ever in times of crisis. While mobility is limited physically, technology keeps the AWGs connected and allows them to try new ways of advancing advocacy through the various online meeting platforms and messaging applications. The AWGs will be able to continue their work while taking on different approaches in the “new normal” – more personalized lobbying work, internet-based consultations, online forums and webinars. The communication planning workshops made an impression on the AWGs that prioritization is key, and knowing who the audience and the messenger is will make for an effective advocacy plan. These new lessons may be applied in navigating the new normal today and tomorrow.