A perfect storm
There are challenges aplenty facing the advocacy sector, and many would argue that there’s a perfect storm due to the conjunction of financial, legislative and societal factors. Perhaps so, but the key issue is whether the sector is adapting to the changing environment and is seizing the opportunities that are emerging. Building the capacity of communities to advocate for themselves and others capacity is one such opportunity.
In these financially straitened times, there’s an obvious economic imperative to build community capacity. As discretionary and preventative health and social care services are being squeezed, we are seeing more people in increasingly desperate situations – relentlessly increasing demand, longer and more complex advocacy interactions.
Pressures on the public purse are resulting in sharp reductions in funding for non-statutory advocacy which lead to tighter eligibility criteria. Supporting, enabling and developing community-based organisations to advocate for local people makes perfect sense.
Irrespective of the financial context, there’s a compelling argument for building community capacity because we believe that the sector has a responsibility to empower people and communities to advocate for themselves and for each other.
The Advocacy Charter talks about the empowerment principle, and this is usually interpreted as being at an individual level – advocates working with service users. In line with our charitable purpose, The Advocacy Project interprets this principle much more broadly.
By opening up our National Advocacy Qualification accredited training to community groups, offering mentoring and pathways to employment, we can ensure that informal advocacy is conducted to the same standard as formal statutory advocacy.
As an example, we are working with London Borough of Hackney to create a lasting legacy. We have opened up our Continuing Professional Development training schemes to local organisations delivering formal and informal non-statutory advocacy to improve practice. We have also invited staff in local community-based organisations to train as statutory advocates alongside our own staff.
Stronger, more resilient communities, with a deeper understanding of advocacy, benefit everyone.
One of our partners in Hackney said:
“It’s very exciting to be working with The Advocacy Project, as our staff are developing new skills and are progressing towards delivering statutory advocacy. We also appreciate the chance for our staff to study alongside The Advocacy Project staff to achieve the National Advocacy Qualification”.
We’re collaborating with people and organisations across the borough on developing new forms of advocacy, such as citizen advocacy, peer advocacy and group advocacy, as well as exploring new delivery mechanisms.
There will always be a role for traditional individual face-to-face interactions, but we are also embracing new ways of ensuring that people have easier access to high-quality advocacy. We have piloted the use of technology-enabled advocacy across care groups, such as people with learning disabilities, offering different choices about how to engage with us. It has worked well, and we are now rolling these approaches out more broadly.
Of course, we have our own organisational imperatives, and we need to be funded to work in these new ways. We need to seek both public sector contracts and grants from trusts and foundations to enable us to undertake community development and capacity building. It’s early days, but we are really starting to build an evidence base showing that these approaches work.
It’s timely to reflect on this during National Advocacy Week. Together let’s shape the agenda…
CEO The Advocacy Project