does advocacy work? (part 1)

International Studies Quarterly‘s March issue includes an insightful article on advocacy effectiveness, human rights policy, and “naming and shaming.” The authors, Amanda Murdie and David Davis, assess a new dataset on advocacy effectiveness, noting the contextualized impact of “naming and shaming” practices by human rights organization, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Murdie and Davis’ findings are largely intuitive–mobilization works, so long as enabling conditions increase the target’s vulnerability. The authors provide an important assessment of the contextual foundations for impact-oriented human rights activity:

First, we introduce a new data set of HRO [human rights organization] naming and shaming by third-party actors that cite HROs. By doing so, we highlight the value of using events data to study non-state actors. This data set does not rely on the workings of one HRO but instead utilizes an existing events data framework to examine how multiple HROs are theoretically argued to shame, through international newspaper reports…

Our findings underscore the importance of the reputation mechanism through which improvements in human rights occur. We find that the effects of HRO shaming are not conditional on economic vulnerability; instead, HRO shaming works when either third parties join in efforts to pressure the state from abroad or when HROs are able to help increase domestic mobilization from within the state. These findings indicate that vulnerability to HRO shaming is not all materialistic in nature; states can be vulnerable to HRO shaming without high dependency on aid or foreign investment. We feel these findings support Risse and Sikkink’s (1999:6) contention that their theory is ‘‘generalizable across cases irrespective of cultural, political, or economic differences…’’

The empirical findings of this paper show that HROs can have an impact on human rights even without being able to enter a state domestically. This is important, as mentioned, because of the growing number of states that restrict operations of civil society within their borders. As shown above, we find that the majority of the conditional effect of HRO shaming comes ‘‘from above.’’

You can read the rest of the (ungated) paper here.

From a broader perspective, much of the comparative politics literature on transnational advocacy networks has centered on processes of sub-state political and social change, including norm diffusion within and between states, socialization opportunities, and tangible mechanisms for materialistic pressure. Finnemore and Sikkink, Carpenter, and Ron, Ramos, and Rodgers have demonstrated the effective role of transnational advocacy organizations in mobilizing political will, through sub-state agenda setting and political will-building. In contrast, blogosphere commentary has identified gaping holes in the effectiveness, impact, and utility of human rights advocacy–see, for example, a popular set of posts on “badvocacy” and the “Love Actually rule” of value-added activism. Beyond the unhelpful discussion on the comparative advantages of blogging and social-science research, the academia/blogosphere gap raises important questions about our definition of advocacy, our effectiveness metrics, and the ways in which we can better the various facets of the international human rights project.

International human rights advocacy is a diverse community, containing a broad, heterogeneous intersection of individuals, political actors, and organizations. Effective advocacy operates through a “theory of change“–that is, an understanding of the ways in which mobilization will change the world. The “theory of change” approach to advocacy mobilization relies on a core assumption of organizational and organizing theory: in order to achieve a goal, activists, actors, and community leaders need a strategic framework to ensure the effective distribution of institutional resources towards getting stuff done. Theories of change operate within political, social, and economic contexts, rather than in a vacuum. On the local level, theories of change are easy to identify: the chair of the Los Alamos Board of Regents relies on his Episcopal Church for political support, so encouraging the Church to endorse an environmentally responsible procurement policy may yield positive results. On the international level, theories of change are more complicated; pushing aside individual, bureaucratic, and inter-organizational dynamics, transnational advocacy networks operate in a complex, anarchic system, which is inherently anti-democratic, hierarchical, and non-transparent.

With varied, inconsistent theories of change in play, our perceptions of international human rights advocacy require a bit of disaggregation. In a recent post on typologies of political violence, Rachel Strohm used a chart display to outline the interaction between government and opposition mobilization categories. I found the visual compelling, and have tried to replicate the tactic below. I identify four types of international human rights advocacy (internal policy, external policy, “naming and shaming,” and grassroots mobilization), and create a framework through which these advocacy types impact the policymaking and foreign policy decision-making process.

Now that you’ve finished perusing my chart, check back tomorrow: I’ll feature explanations of the ways in which internal policy advocacy, external policy advocacy, “naming and shaming,” and grassroots mobilization influence the policymaking process. In the meantime, what do you think? If you’re a practitioner, does this mesh with your experience in the human rights advocacy field? If you’re a scholar, how does this advocacy typology stack up to your understanding of transnational advocacy networks and the foreign policy-making process?

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