We offer these four steps to food councils and community groups for engaging in successful advocacy:
- Identify food system policy and planning issues,
- Prioritize which issues to work on,
- Network with decision makers and food system stakeholders, and
- Make strategic advocacy plans.
At first, these four steps might seem overwhelming. However, being thoughtful and methodical in your advocacy process will actually save your food council time and wasted energy in the long run. Going through these four steps will also help your food council or community group to become better experts on your local food system, to enhance the advocacy skills of your members, and to ultimately cultivate new community leaders from within your group.
Make a Plan
Ideally, your networking and advocacy plans should be designed by a small group of core leaders from your food council or group, like a subcommittee or task force specifically focused on policy and planning issues. This group should first work to identify policy and planning opportunities in your community related to food, agriculture and health. Then, prioritize which issues to work on based on your group’s mission and goals, the capacity of your members, the timing of particular opportunities and the potential for community impact. This process will take time and should be facilitated through a consent process informed by both data and community input.
Strategic networking with decision makers should happen whenever the chance arises, but the next step in this process is to make a plan to meet with elected officials and other food system stakeholders to gauge their positions on the issues you have identified. They need to know about your issues before being asked to take positions on potential changes. Hopefully a champion for your issues emerges during your meetings with policy and decision makers who will work with your group on the changes you desire.
However, a policy change champion may not emerge, and your council may need to bring in additional allies and resources to prove your position. This is where crafting a strategic advocacy plan comes in. Making a well thought out plan will increase the likelihood of your desired outcomes being achieved through a careful consideration of your allies, opponents, tactics and power dynamics. Making a strategic networking plan well help to highlight what opportunities and challenges lie ahead during your advocacy process. We recommend going through the process of making a plan at the start of any advocacy process. In the end, you may not need to use all of the tactics that you plan out, but putting together a plan at the beginning will help your group to better understand all of the dynamics potentially involved in shifting or adopting policy or programmatic change.
Once adopted by your group, your plans should be continuously adjusted through a process of open discussion and consensus. It is important to remember that building relationships with policy makers and advocacy are not necessarily a linear processes; sometimes you will have to jump ahead or you may have to go back and repeat steps you have already taken. No matter how strategic, your council should remember to always be flexible in its advocacy planning.