Partnering for Effective Family Planning Advocacy

Sarah V. Harlan

CCP | Learning Director
Moses, a member of the Village Health Team in Nakasongola, Uganda, uses a flipchart to educate his peers about family planning.

Moses, a member of the Village Health Team in Nakasongola, Uganda, uses a flipchart to educate his peers about family planning. © 2015 Lucian Alexe/Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, Courtesy of Photoshare

This spring, K4Health is featuring the latest essential evidence, tools, and expert commentary on family planning advocacy. One thing K4Health’s new web page on Advocating for Family Planning Policy makes clear is that advocacy is absolutely essential for reaching women and families with access to life-saving contraceptive information and services. But this is easier said than done. Advocacy can be intimidating—especially if, like me and others who recently attended Advance Family Planning’s (AFP) workshop, you are fairly new to the advocacy and policy realm.

In February 2017, I represented the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs and the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project at an AFP workshop in Washington, D.C. The four-day workshop included training on the AFP advocacy methodology, known as “AFP SMART,” as well as facilitation skills. Fifteen participants from 10 organizations attended, and it was a pleasure getting acquainted with these colleagues. In addition to digging into the nine steps of the SMART approach and practicing facilitation in small groups, we also spent time learning about each other’s advocacy experiences and discussing how we all planned to use AFP SMART moving forward. And perhaps most importantly, we looked at potential connections among all our organizations with regard to upcoming advocacy plans.

The goal of AFP SMART is not to make advocacy “easy.” Instead, AFP provides valuable tools for navigating this complex process, from refining the objectives (and ensuring that they are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound), to choosing decision makers, to measuring the impact of your advocacy activities. By breaking the process down into nine manageable steps and focusing on building momentum through “quick wins,” AFP SMART is a helpful roadmap that makes advocacy much less daunting. At the same time, the approach is flexible enough to use in a variety of settings, both international and domestic, and from the global context down to district and sub-district levels.

AFP SMART helps teams determine key decision makers, and also stresses the importance of locally-driven advocacy. This can sound abstract, but during the workshop, we learned about a number of case studies that helped bring these concepts to life. For example, beginning in 2010, AFP began working with the government of Uganda, FHI 360, and others to take the evidence generated by FHI 360 on the safety and feasibility of community-based distribution of injectable contraception and put it into practice. Coordinated partnership with key decision makers helped them advocate for funding and supportive policies to expand access to contraception, particularly injectable contraception, throughout the country.

As with the Uganda example, all of AFP’s examples of successful advocacy reinforce the theme of partnerships: We cannot do advocacy in a vacuum. A network of partners is not only helpful, but is absolutely required to do this work. It can take years to reach an advocacy goal. Partnerships with other dedicated advocates are crucial to help achieve “quick wins” and build momentum towards the larger goal.

Along these lines, AFP’s workshop served as a catalyst for advocacy partnerships moving forward. In addition to providing us with a valuable training opportunity, AFP helped spark this network of interested (and now trained) advocates who can support each other and the family planning community at large.

K4Health is proud to provide tools, resources, and knowledge management support to the advocacy community, and we are excited to highlight key messages, essential tools, and a lively blog series on Advocating for Family Planning Policy this spring. We look forward to hearing more from you about what works, how we can learn from each other’s experiences, and how we can work together.