Advocacy for Watershed Protection
From BC Guide to Watershed Law & Planning
At it’s most basic, advocacy is about putting across a particular view. Watershed advocates want to get across to government, industry and the public why they should care about protecting some aspect of a watershed. Ensuring that the voices of watershed protection advocates are heard can take many forms: participation in government processes,media advocacy and community organization can all be crucial tools.
Many people are concerned about protecting watersheds but are afraid that they cannot accomplish anything or that they will be laughed at – or worse. Public participation is a well-recognized right in Canadian law, and there are countless examples of where a well organized, small group of people has made a real difference.
To be an effective advocate means more than attending a meeting or hearing. To make the most of advocacy opportunities, smart growth advocates need to be organized, have clear messages and a plan for delivering them, be able to generate and show public support for their issues, use the municipal bureaucracy effectively, and employ tactics to effectively lobby local elected officials.
Skill building for effective advocacy takes time and effort, and comes with experience. There are a range of skills and considerations that enhance an advocate’s ability to pull off a successful campaign. The ability to organize and effectively work in groups, the cultivation of “media saavy”, and the development of positive working relationships with both elected officials and municipal employees all benefit the promotion of smart growth. Volumes have been written about these subjects. Some links and other resources are available on this website. Watershed protection advocates are encouraged to explore more detailed resources on these topics.
“Getting organized” builds your capacity to be an effective advocate for smart growth. Some steps to take:
1.Join or establish a group. Although there are challenges associated with working in groups, there are also great benefits. Generally, groups receive more attention on public issues than do individuals. You can approach neighbourhood associations, rate-payer groups or environmental organizations to see if you can work with them on watershed protection advocacy. Once you identify a group who might be willing to support your issue, ask if you can make a presentation to their board. Or, invite several groups to a joint meeting to discuss the issue. Or, if there isn’t an organization is working on your issue(s), call a meeting of everyone concerned about a proposed development or a government decision and see about forming a new group. Nothing fancy is required: a loose coalition of individuals with a catchy name can work wonders.
2. Developing clear goals, strategies and tactics. To work toward your common goal, everyone in your group should have a clear understanding of what that goal is. For instance, it is important to decide whether your goal is to stop a particular development (if so it is important to have an alternative in mind) or simply change the design of a development?
3. Clearly outlining roles, responsibilities and rules for working together. Many organizations – even informal ones – develop a code of conduct, which formally outlines roles and responsibilities, decision-making mechanisms, and how to record and monitor decisions.
4. Building your skills and material resources. Do you need materials such as paper? Do you need access to photocopiers, computers? Will you have travel costs? Do you need to fundraise? Is there some one in your group who has good facilitation skills? Public speaking skills? Outline your needs and develop a plan to meet them.
5. Expanding your knowledge. Who is responsible for addressing your issue of concern? Is this an issue to be dealt with by local government staff or politicians? Can you find examples from other areas which support the policy alternative you want to present? Information Gathering can be critical to good and credible advocacy.
6. Build your contacts. In developing an advocacy strategy it will be necessary to think about who supports or opposes you on a particular issue. But one great thing about groups is that they can build and strengthen ties within their communities that continue past a particular campaign. Who do you know who might be useful in the future that you should be developing connections with now? Are there high profile people in the community that can add credibility to your organization?
Related Guide pages:
- Developing An Advocacy Strategy
- Gathering Information for Advocacy
- Engaging with Government
- Public Outreach
- Media Outreach
- Legal and planning tools
For More Information about Advocacy:
- The Citizen’s Handbook– A Guide to Building Community in Vancouver
- Social Change Training Manual – The Change Agency’s Training Resources.
- Anyone Can – A guide to starting an environmental group, written by Robin Villiers Brown and published by the Queensland Conservation Council of Australia.
- Center for Community Change – This website of an American organization working on empowering low income communities has many resources on organizing and advocacy.
- The Frequently Asked Questions page of idealist.org, an American website, is not accurate in terms of Canadian law, but is a good entry point for answers to questions on how to organize and run a non-profit organization.
- Protest.net’s Activists Handbook – Although the website advocates civil disobedience and other tactics that watershed advocates may or may not approve of, the Activists Handbook has a number of interesting articles and suggestions about organizing and advocacy.
- Sharing Our Successes – West Coast Environmental Law has put out this short publication (pdf format) about where people working together have made a difference.