Campaigning, Advocacy and Policy

Campaigning, advocacy and policy work is a core activity for many of us. An equality and human rights dimension can strengthen this work – and change how it’s framed.

Five main ways you can use equality and human rights in your influencing work are:

One: to progress your equality and human rights priorities.

  • Equality and human rights can be the core focus of a campaign.

Example:  a charity found that they were not seeing LGBT clients in the numbers they expected. They joined forces with other charities and LGBT community groups to raise the profile of the needs of this group. Their project identified two key influencing targets: for the Council to improve the way it dealt with young, homeless LGBT people, and the way health services provided for LGBT people. The partnership raised these issues successfully – and all organisations learned how to work together in a constructive way.

Two: To identify common cause and create critical mass.

  • In a climate of spending reductions, public bodies need to target resources effectively to deliver their strategic and equality objectives. Identifying common cause and building partnerships can be an effective way to make progress
  • It shows public bodies that they can work in a targeted way, with a critical mass of voluntary sector organisations working for a common goal. This helps the public body save money and work more efficiently and effectively. It also positions your organisation as one that understands the economic and political realities facing the public sector.

Example: a community group saw that Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people, including British-born and settled communities and more recently arrived Eastern European citizens, found the local police reluctant to investigate hate incidents. Older people seeking help with elder abuse and women seeking help for domestic abuse were having similar difficulties.

Charities working with these groups campaigned together to raise the awareness of candidates standing for election as Police and Crime Commissioners. They used a shared message that everyone has the human right to live free from violence and abuse, and secured manifesto commitments to improve police performance in these areas.

Three: To use the equality and human rights obligations on public and private sectors as levers for policy change. You can:

  • Use the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) to advance issues you’re campaigning on. The PSED requires all public bodies to consider how it can advance equality, promote good relations, and eliminate discrimination – in strategic and day-to-day decision-making and activities. In addition all bodies in England must publish at least one equality objective. Check to see if commitments are made and if they are being implemented. Lobby for issues to become their equality objective(s).  Impact assessments are one way public bodies consider the equality implications of their policies and plans. Check if assessments have taken place – and if they identify the right impacts, with suitable mitigation.
  • How the PSED is to be applied by public bodies is different in Scotland and Wales – it is more detailed and requires more of them. Follow the link at the top of this section for lots of useful information about how to use the PSED, and about the different national requirements.
  • Use human rights principles and the Human Rights Act 1998 as a basis to seek change. Leeds Older People’s Forum wanted to improve the provision of local home care. They researched how both human rights and commissioning can improve these services. They then worked with the council to incorporate a human rights perspective into the commissioning process and drive up standards.
  • Challenge discriminatory practices. A charity noticed that people whose names ‘sounded foreign’ were unfairly scrutinised and sanctioned by the local Job Centre Plus (JCP). They met with the JCP manager to raise their concerns, present evidence and make the point that staff had a duty not to discriminate
  • Target private sector providers who don’t recognise their obligations. They may not know the Equality Act 2010 applies to them. A charity worked with utilities providers to help them understand their duty to make reasonable adjustments as of right for disabled people – rather on the basis that it was good to do because they believed disabled people were vulnerable.

Four: To help people to exercise their rights through individual advocacy. Either on their behalf, or by supporting people to advocate for their own interests. You can:

  • Provide simple materials on rights under equality and human rights legislation. Your clients can show these to the service provider or employer they are having problems with.
  • Support people to make informal complaints and negotiate a better outcome.
  • Support people to make formal complaints about possible breaches of equality and human rights legislation or principles, to the public body or relevant ombuds service.
  • Refer people who want to take further action on these rights to EASS, their local Law Centre, or Citizens Advice, or Acas.
  • Develop or bring in specialist advice expertise on equality and human rights legislation for those who feel their rights have been abused. This could include taking cases to the relevant court or tribunal.
  • Promote knowledge of relevant equality and human rights case law among service providers you deal with in your advocacy work. This reduces the likelihood of abuse – and amplifies the impact of the original cases.

Example:  Learning disability, autism and human rights, an accessible resource from BIHR.

Five:  To use equality and human rights values to shape campaigns. You can:

  • Make sure people affected by your campaigning issues can be involved in the campaign work. Support them to tell their stories to policymakers
  • Set out how equality and human rights values impact your campaigning issue. Build these values into the messages you develop – adding weight to the arguments for change that you make in your campaign.

One: Train – your staff, volunteers and beneficiaries to harness equality and human rights.

  • Build their skills and confidence to recognise which rights are most relevant to their lives and how these apply in practice. They don’t need to be experts, or delve into legal detail, to do this.
  • Keep a collection of up-to-date resources on equality and human rights law. Make sure staff and volunteers can access quality information to help those seeking advocacy support.

Two: Complain – when things aren’t right.

  • Understanding how rights are protected (and that public authorities should be fair in policymaking and service delivery) means your staff, volunteers and beneficiaries can speak up when things aren’t right
  • It’s often best to start with an informal complaint, directly with the people involved
  • If this doesn’t work, if the issue is extremely serious, or if you’re worried about how people will react, it can be better to use a formal procedure
  • If you’re unhappy with the outcome of this procedure, you can pursue your complaint through other channels – like an Ombudsman service, your MP or a local councillor
  • You may want to consider legal action. Usually cases must be filed within strict time limits after the event complained about – so get advice as soon as possible
  • Provide (or set up referrals to) legal advice and support that enables people to take cases under equality and human rights legislation, where this is the most appropriate option.

 Three: Campaign – review your campaigns and policy work against the priorities,  groups and themes you’ve identified. Use this to refocus your work or fill any gaps.

  • When planning campaigns, find opportunities to advance your equality and human rights priorities – or to use equality and human rights to achieve broader campaign goals
  • Consider the tone and style of your equality and human rights-related campaigns and policy work, and what’s most likely to be effective
  • Develop an evidence base of data and stories to support your campaigns
  • Get people’s voices heard. This could be a dedicated volunteer who talks to service users and records their stories, or who supports people with lived experience to talk to policymakers.

Social change objectives are achieved with the help of equality and human rights.

  • The number of times in a given period (with examples) that equality and human rights are used in your influencing work
  • Policy and campaigns outcomes advance equality and human rights.

Protests, direct action, and social media campaigns. There are a range of influencing styles that all have different roles to play in achieving change. In the current climate, it’s worth considering if a more relationship-based approach would work.

By taking a relationship-based approach, you can demonstrate to a private sector or public body that you understand the pressures they’re facing. And that there’s mutual benefit in developing or maintaining a relationship.

Why build influencing relationships in our current climate

Our current climate is affected by economic insecurity, spending reductions,  changes in policy approaches, growing service pressures, and a shift to more client-centred services that meet people’s needs and choices. In this complicated and difficult environment, one way to be effective in getting your equality messages across is for your organisation to:

  • Develop or strengthen your relationship with relevant private and public bodies – as an important partner with something to offer
  • Understand, and show you understand, the growing pressures on service providers. This can include your language and tone
  • Set out how you can help them respond, how your work can help them achieve their aims – including through using equality or human rights laws and principles.

The relationship that your organisation has with a public body can be the most influential factor in determining how you are viewed, involved and consulted; and ultimately, what support you’ll receive for the equality issues that matter to you and your community.

 How to build influencing relationships

Developing relationships requires effort from across your organisation. The trustee board and senior staff (if any) all need to recognise the value and benefits of working closely with a public body. The conditions for trust, understanding and openness to grow between your organisation and a public body can be supported by carefully planning what it is you aim to do and how you will do it. In particular, you should consider:

  • Making sure your contact with them is systematic and properly planned
  • Recognising at what stage(s) in the process influence/impact can be made, so your contact is the right time, right place, and right person
  • Taking a multi-layered approach to contacts. Different people in your organisation build contacts with relevant people at different levels across the public body
  • Constantly emphasising the mutual benefits for the two organisations
  • Perseverance – it will take time.

 What are public bodies looking for?

It can take time to build an ongoing relationship with a public body. In the meantime, you can still use knowledge of what public bodies are looking for to influence and hold them to account in the short term.

Public bodies value organisations that can do one or more of the following:

  • Spot emerging demands and trends. Our organisations play a key role in providing public authorities with timely local and national information about the changing needs or profiles of communities
  • Create solutions to help public bodies meet their equality objective(s) and the PSED.
  • Are constructive and collaborative in looking for solutions. Offer new ideas – or have experience of tried and tested approaches that can work or be adapted in the current context.
  • Support informed consideration of policy and practice.  What information can you provide from your community or service users about the effect of initiatives? Can you show public bodies a piece of real life? This could include:
    • Providing relevant data or sharing research
    • Putting them in touch with different sections of the community
    • Identifying good practice from another organisation that can replicated, or benchmarking their performance against this organisations
  • Identify saving opportunities. Organisations need to demonstrate that they have a realistic understanding of the hard times that public bodies are facing. The value for money ethos asks whether a service is being provided efficiently, economically and effectively. These three aspects provide a quick way for you to consider how a policy or service could be improved – alongside equality and human rights.  To be efficient and effective, services need to cater for those that need them most. And local authorities need to adhere to “Best Value” guidance that highlights the importance of social value alongside economic criteria.

What’s your added value?

Be clear and confident about what your group brings to the table. This builds the relationship and your potential to influence. Use ‘what are public bodies looking for?’ for ideas.

Our established ways of communicating and campaigning aren’t winning the hearts and minds of most people. Research shows that roughly 40% of the population are conflicted about many social issues, including equality and human rights.

By conflicted we mean that they agree with both regressive and progressive messages. The problem is conflicted audiences mostly hear regressive messages as these tend to dominate the media they consume. And as a sector we are not good at communicating with this conflicted audience in ways they can relate to.

Public opinion matters because it influences policy. And this 40% – which also includes many of the officials and politicians you might want to influence – are a crucial audience for the voluntary sector.

There’s a growing body of evidence, including insights from anthropology and behavioural science, that we can shift public opinion if we understand what people think and feel about an issue and why, and frame our arguments accordingly.

And there are a range of evidence-based techniques that you can use to improve how you communicate with the conflicted audience, and get your message across in positive ways. These techniques are often known as strategic communications.

Strategic communications starts with the fact that we don’t communicate in a vacuum: whenever we communicate we influence the unconscious associations, values and emotions that our words and phrases trigger in others, and therefore their response.

Strategic communications is about making conscious choices about what to leave in and out of our communications in order to build support and create positive social change.

Here are some examples:


One: Build strategic communications techniques into your campaigns and influencing

What this looks like will depend on the size and capacity of your organisation, and your current communications capacity. You could for example develop a major communications programme, or make small but important changes by applying one or more of our Top Tips, or focus on using human rights in your communications to support your human rights based approach.


Social change objectives are achieved by communicating more effectively about equality and human rights.

  • The number of communications you produce in a given period to reach your target audience
  • The number of people reached
  • The changes in their views
  • Policy and campaigns use strategic communications techniques to advance equality and human rights.
Further reading
Further Reading


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