Advocacy is defined in our regulations, in 45 CFR 1329.4:

Advocacy means pleading an individual’s cause or speaking or writing in support of an individual. To the extent permitted by State law or the rules of the agency before which an individual is appearing, a non-lawyer may engage in advocacy on behalf of another individual. Advocacy may –

(1) Involve representing an individual –

(i) Before private entities or organizations, government agencies (whether State, local, or Federal), or in a court of law (whether State or Federal); or

(ii) In negotiations or mediation, in formal or informal administrative proceedings before government agencies (whether State, local, or Federal), or in legal proceedings in a court of law; and

(2) Be on behalf of –

(i) A single individual, in which case it is individual advocacy;

(ii) A group or class of individuals, in which case it is systems advocacy; or

(iii) Oneself, in which case it is self advocacy.

Anna Birney defines System Change as “the emergence of a new pattern of organization or system structure. It is an outcome.”

Let me suggest that, every time we engage in advocacy our hope is to see change. System change, then, can be — should be! — the result of our advocacy work.

I’d like to suggest that our advocacy will be most effective if we know what it is that needs to change, how that structure or policy or pattern or environment can be changed and what the new emerging system should look like. Holding signs and shouting slogans or singing songs can certainly draw attention to the system that needs changing, but if we are doing these things in front of the wrong office and are missing the people or groups that can impact the change we want, we have planned poorly and may be wasting energy and resources.

You’ve heard the maxim, “Begin with the end in mind.” That applies to advocacy. It is important for the people impacted by the system that needs to change to define what the replacement or modified system needs to look like to meet their needs. What new pattern or policy or structure or organization needs to change, and what does the new system need to look like?

Donella Meadows suggests these leverage points (interpreted by Anna Birney) to accomplish system change. As you go down the list the greater leverage and therefore impact you might have on changing the system. System change is unlikely to happen in just one of these ways but a combination of them all.

Structures –changes in the physical structures of a system for example the way a transport, energy system or place is organized

Flows — changes in how flows of information, finance or how value might be distributed, are configured and relate to each other

Rules — the rules dictate how the system is organized, so if they change they will have an impact on the flows, patterns and structures of the system

Power to evolve — this is the one I find the hardest to get my head around. The power to add, change, evolve or self-organize system structure. So can we put in place the ability for the system to change, adapting to different responses to maintain the goal of the system? If a system is self-organizing it has the power to keep evolving itself.

Goal — If the goal of the system, it purpose and function, change, it will ultimately determine how the rest of the system operates.

Paradigm — A paradigm is a set of assumptions or a view about how the world works, it is a pattern of organizing our thoughts, which informs how we act and how structures, flows, rules, goals arise.

As you engage in system advocacy, take the time to figure out which approach or combination of approaches get to the crux of the issue. Exactly what do you want to change? You will be a chance to express what you need at some point. Be ready with a thoughtful analysis of what in the targeted system needs to change and how.

System Advocacy or System Change?

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