does advocacy work? (part 2)

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part series on advocacy effectiveness and typologies of human rights mobilization. Check out the first part here.

Internal Policy: “Bureaucracy” is a more concise, common title for “internal policy advocacy,” as the chart suggests. Bureaucratic decision-making is the most effective and frequent form of advocacy, for a variety of reasons. In contrast to external policy or “naming and shaming,” bureaucratic policy processes occur amongst people who have power, rather than between the powerful and the powerless. Additionally, internal policy advocacy yields resource distribution, political-will mobilization, and related, consequent results of the policy process. The impact of internal policy advocacy occurs in the short-term, resulting from a meeting, a memo, or a stroke of a pen. In general, bureaucratic processes take weeks, even months, to filter through the complex decision-making system; however, internal advocacy processes are instantly effective or ineffective, determined by an individual’s ability to persuade and coerce the collective institution.

As James Wilson observes in his essential work on the bureaucracy of public administration, dynamic, complex organizational cultures define the ways in which policy develops, managers interact with subordinates, and organizations prioritize individual perspectives. Within government bureaucracies, individual credibility, relationships, and incentives for decision-making determine the impact and effectiveness of the advocacy process. Advocacy effectiveness is a human process, determined by the strength of human relationships: If a State Department Policy Planning staff member falls out of favor with the Policy Planning director, there are few incentives for the staff member’s particular policy to materialize, beyond its inherent value.

External Policy: External policy advocacy occurs between advocacy elites and policymaking officials. If the intelligence community provides a constant stream of non-policy expertise, external advocates provide the policy counterpoint. The U.S. civil service is a peculiar beast: with the exception of the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency, and a couple of other government bodies, most government employees receive relatively few years of professional and leadership development training, particularly in comparison to counterparts in the British Commonwealth. Civilian responsibilities are increasingly outsourced to contractors in the private sector, many of whom are embedded in government offices. With the exception of a few, uniquely technocratic offices (Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman’s office is one), policy-makers and government institutions rely on a broad base of external support to craft policy, direct the flow of information, and, in the case of the legislative branch, develop legislation. Most Congressional staffers have neither the time nor the interest in directing legislative development process on foreign policy issues beyond Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and a small set of counterterrorism and proliferation issues. Accordingly, external policy advocates play a decisive role in identifying what gets to the table, how it’s delivered, and how Congressional officials and policy-makers can amplify its importance.

In contrast to internal processes, the effectiveness of external policy advocacy operates over the medium-term. There are, of course, human elements: who has the Hill contacts in which office, who gets a meeting with an envoy or an ambassador, and which reports policymakers read. The development of organizational credibility occurs gradually, and depends on an organization’s ability to demonstrate its comparative advantage in policy expertise and on-the-ground information resources. Standard operating procedures and security restraints frequently limit the reach of diplomats, intelligence officers, and other public information resources; external policy advocacy relies on the strength of information networks to bolster its effectiveness.

“Naming and Shaming”: In the interest of length, I’m going to link to two valuable resources on “naming and shaming,” causal mechanisms, and effective advocacy. Murdie and Davis, and Krain have both authored important quantitative analyses of human rights advocacy and “naming and shaming” strategies. I discussed the former yesterday; the latter addresses the impact of “naming and shaming” on the severity of genocides and politicides, finding an inverse relationship between “naming and shaming” efforts and atrocities severity. As the chart above indicates, and theoretical research confirms, “naming and shaming” impacts the reputations of atrocity regimes, as well as those of by-standing governments. However, according to Murdie and Davis’ excellent assessment, the presence of existing, on-the-ground political forces–civil society mobilization, political pressure–determines the institutional impact of “naming and shaming” strategies.

Grassroots: As I’ve discussed in previous, post-#KONY2012 pieces, our present-day understanding of grassroots international human rights advocacy is misguided. Consider the field: a broad spectrum of international human rights organizations operate in the United States, mobilizing local, regional, and national constituencies in support of a more compassionate, moral foreign policy. Give me a state, and I’ll name a respective network of activists for peace and human rights in Sudan. Add in the broad proliferation of diaspora organizations, social networks, and professional constituencies from conflict-affected states, and you’ll find hundreds of informal institutions advocating for a rights-based approach to U.S. global leadership. Suffice it to say that, in the midst of international political tumult, U.S. national security threats, and regional stability concerns in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, domestic human rights advocates have a hard time getting a foot in the door. Congress–the most direct entry-point for domestic advocates–may fund U.S. foreign policy ventures, but the executive branch defines the distribution of financial resources, human capital, and political attention.

In organizing strategy, as in military affairs, victory is the core element of successful mobilization, organization, and implementation. #KONY2012, popularly perceived as the pinnacle of grassroots mobilization, hasn’t changed that basic fact. Over the past month, political decision-making has not become more democratic, nor has social media empowered a greater role for activists in foreign policy mobilization. Grassroots actors–from “slacktivists,” to lobby-day participants, to community leaders–have been instrumental in the release and co-sponsorship of bipartisan LRA-related legislation; however, their impact has not been causal, strictly defined. Short-term impact by grassroots actors is endogenous to successful external policy advocacy; the development and encouragement of anti-LRA policy and legislation relies on advocacy elites, rather than popular mobilization. Grassroots advocates play a role, but their participation in external policy advocacy processes determines the success of political will-building initiatives.

More importantly, grassroots mobilization around international human rights impacts the long-term trajectory of U.S. foreign policy. The chart is misleading, leaving little space for dynamic interaction between varied forms of human rights advocacy. In reality, grassroots human rights advocacy affects the eventual diffusion of human rights norms within policy-making administrations. Effective grassroots advocacy is a civic practice, providing youth leadership with the opportunity to think about the world, engage in policy discourse, and prioritize a moral decision-making framework. If internal policy advocacy is the quickest, most effective mechanism for human rights mobilization, the goal of grassroots human rights advocacy must be to change that equation, as well as its quality, across generations, rather than within them.

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