Identify Issues for Advocacy
What can food councils and community groups do to improve agricultural economic viability, access to fresh food and overall community health? In what ways can these groups influence community planning and local economic development to support healthier people, a healthier planet, and more economically viable and sustainable farming systems? What policies ought to be added, amended or removed to improve your community’s food system? These are all questions that your food council may consider as you ponder potential advocacy actions that your group can take to improve health, food and agriculture in your community.
So, how do you choose which issues to work on? In their book, Organizing for Social Change (2010), The Midwest Academy suggests the following criteria for this process. Your group should discuss this criteria for each issue that you are considering.
A good issue should:
- Result in Real Improvement in People’s Lives. There must be some measurable way to determine whether your work on the issue has succeeded. Are people better off than they were before? People who sign on to help must feel that their work is promoting a change that is worth their effort. Are you wondering how to measure the value of your work? We suggest conducting a “baseline assessment” before engaging in advocacy work so that you know what your community’s food system looks like before you take action. A baseline assessment gives you a starting place from which to measure the impact of your work and will help you to identify your community’s food system opportunities and challenges.
- Be Winnable. Don’t choose an issue that is so large that the end result is unimaginable. Those involved should be able to see, from the beginning, that there is a good chance of succeeding in their efforts.
- Be Widely Felt. You need a large base of support, so pick an issue that will appeal to many different people.
- Be Deeply Felt. People need to not only agree with your issue, they need to care enough to do something about it.
- Be Easy to Understand. If people do not see that the problem you are targeting exists, or if they cannot understand how your solution will contribute to fixing the problem, they are unlikely to support your cause. If the problem is complex, try to provide as much information as possible to educate partners, the public and decision makers on the issue well in advance of your advocacy effort.
- Have a Clear Decision Maker. A Decision Maker is a person, such as a Mayor, County Commissioner, or other elected official, who has the power to give you what you want.
- Be Non-Divisive. This does not mean that you can never work on issues that are controversial. However, it’s important to frame your issue so that your supporters will be united in working toward a common goal, rather than arguing with each other.
- Be Consistent with Your Values and Vision. Does this issue fit with the values and vision of your food council? This is incredibly important. Do not get sidetracked by issues that do not fit in with your food council or group’s overall mission or goals.
Click here for the complete Midwest Academy checklist of criteria for choosing issues. This sheet can help you to compare three issues.
You may also consider performing a baseline food system assessment to help your food council or community group to better understand your local food system. This process can help community groups to better understand current trends in their local food system by highlighting potential barriers and opportunities This enables groups to start to think about potential actions for improvement. Going through the process of collecting data on your community’s food system will also highlight upcoming activities that your group could potentially influence. Knowing that your county’s comprehensive plan is due for an update within the next year will help you to prioritize your advocacy actions over coming year.
Your group will identify than one food system related policy or planning issue to work on, so your next step will be to prioritize which issues to work on first. Prioritizing your issues will help your food council to figure out where and when to strategically put energy into advocacy efforts.