Influencing Policy Change: Finding a Champion

By Joony Moon

In 2015, the global justice community celebrated a huge win: the 193 member states of the United Nations (UN) pledged to achieve “access to justice for all” by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) addressing global social and economic issues. It seemed as though law and justice were finally receiving the attention needed to achieve global coordination, support, and action for a more just world.

However, on the day of the SDG announcement, while most of the other development goals secured major financial commitments (e.g. $956 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the British government for nutrition over the next six years; $25 billion in public and private financing for women’s and children’s health care), no one pledged a penny toward access to justice. Without financial support, it would clearly be an uphill climb to build towards “access to justice for all.”

I had the pleasure of spending this past summer working with the Justice For All campaign, a global campaign advocating greater support for justice defenders around the world. One of our key strategies at the campaign was to foster relationships with policy makers within national governments, encouraging them to step up as leaders willing to make concrete commitments and take actions that would help increase access to justice in their countries.

While the public often focuses on the policy agendas and promises made by country executives — e.g. Presidents or Prime Ministers — those in the advocacy world know that the vast majority of progress takes place within government agencies themselves. By cultivating relationships with those policy makers at the agency level, the Justice For All campaign was able to bring the right people and ideas together to help create a justice coalition comprised of six Ministers of Justice and Labor committed to promoting greater access to justice in their countries prior to their next meeting in the summer of 2019.

How a champion can help

For those seeking to influence policy from the outside — whether as a nonprofit, business, or even as a concerned citizen — it is important to find partners or spokespeople with the power and position to amplify the desired views within policy circles. Finding someone to be a policy’s champion requires effort and time in which the two sides — interested group and policy leader — can build trust and ensure alignment of agenda.

In my previous work at the Skoll Foundation, a charitable foundation supporting social entrepreneurs tackling the world’s most pressing problems, I saw time and again that the social entrepreneurs who were achieving true impact at scale were only able to do so through thoughtful outreach. They relied on mobilizing partnerships with others key actors who had the power to contribute to the positive changes they desired to see.

On one field visit, I had the opportunity to witness the incredible work of Pratham, a nonprofit organization that partners with all levels of government to improve primary education in India. Pratham’s model fundamentally shifts the way the Indian education system has approached measuring student performance, supporting students who fall behind, and empowering teachers who may have limited training. For each of its activities, Pratham embeds its work into the public school system, meaning its success relies on convincing governments to adopt the Pratham method of education. During my visit to observe Pratham’s work in the state of Karnataka, I soon came to see that much of Pratham’s success in the state was due to the strong support it received from the heads of the state’s Ministry of Education. The state’s Chief Minister of Education encouraged their staff to take the Pratham programs seriously and to commit themselves to supporting effective implementation by building trust in the Pratham method among local teachers and school administrators. Their championing of Pratham’s work across the state allowed the programs to be more readily adopted and implemented at scale.

Cultivating “champion-ness”

For those seeking to influence for policy change and trying to cultivate their own champions, it may be unclear how to go about tracking the effectiveness of advocacy efforts. To this end, David Devlin-Foltz and Lisa Molinaro have developed a unique methodology in their article “Champions and ‘Champion-ness’: Measuring Efforts to Create Policy Change”. By presenting and measuring specific traits and behaviors within a scorecard — including fields like “demonstrating awareness” and “advocating for improved policy and practices” — the authors have designed a tool that can begin to quantify how much an advocacy effort’s target audiences have grown into champions. For instance, Devlin-Foltz and Molinaro suggest that a constituent may be able to track the “champion-ness” of a congressman she is trying to influence by looking at how often the representative has delivered public statements on the issue. Alternatively, she could assess the number of times the representative has recruited fellow colleagues to visit sites of the policy intervention.

Policy change can often take a long time, and the path to achieving a desired change may not be particularly straightforward. One strategy used to influence policy from the outside is to find and cultivate a champion for the given policy issue. These champions can amplify a message, pave the way for smooth implementation, or simply be an ally to aid efforts from the inside. The reflections here are but a few anecdotes from my personal experience, but I hope they might yield some insight into a worthwhile strategy for those interested in influencing policy.

Joony Moon is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy and Senior Editor for the Berkeley Public Policy Journal.