12 Responses

  1. Paul Ronalds
    Paul Ronalds September 22, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    In practice, there are many complex factors that influence the decision of when and how NGOs will advocate around government policy – the proportion of government funding is clearly a factor but it’s only one of many.

    For example, Save the Children was founded by an outspoken advocate and our theory of change explicitly emphasises the importance of advocacy in achieving systemic change. Hence, advocacy is a core part of our DNA, or our culture as Patrick says. Internal capability to engage in advocacy effectively is another, particularly the sophisticated and politically nuanced advocacy required for a topic like refugee policy. Leadership, both management and Board is critical.

    Operational issues weigh heavily: will it place staff safety at risk? Will public advocacy undermine your ability to influence behind the scenes? In my experience, public advocacy should be like an iceberg – just the tip. Effective advocacy most frequently occurs behind closed doors and therefore can be extremely difficult to assess from the outside. And what is ultimately in the best interests of the vulnerable groups you are seeking to support? Calculating this requires a very difficult assessment of the implications of reduced impact from meeting people’s immediate humanitarian needs, with the potential benefits from systemic change should you be able to change government policy. As a child rights organisation, this balancing act was something we constantly assessed in relation to Nauru, to ensure we were meeting the Convention’s overriding obligation to act in “the best interests of children”.

    The broader regulatory and political environment is also relevant. Gag clauses, the Freeedom to Advocate Act, the Australian Border Force Act (for refugee issues) etc are only the most blunt tools – government funding decisions are normally much more subtle.

    This is an important debate and the above analysis is very thought provoking but given the complexity of the issues we are seeking to influence, I would be wary of drawing too many conclusions and instead encourage continued research and exploration!

  2. Patrick Kilby
    Patrick Kilby September 5, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    Terence even thought the number is large (>50%) it may not impact running costs as these DFAT funds are required to be quarantined (contract wise) so the impact may not be as much as if it is general revenue. Thus the problem of drawing too much from these aggregate type analyses..

  3. Garth Luke
    Garth Luke September 1, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    There are so many issues here Terence and Sachini. As you say, a measure of quality or degree of action would be interesting, as calling for action (especially in the aid sector) is often pretty mild and unthreatening for government.

    Unless there are particular threats in the air (as there were at some stages during the Howard government) I don’t think NGO managers are too worried about negative reactions from politicians. There may be a bit more concern however about offending DFAT staff who can make specific funding decisions, especially as a number of Australian NGOs appear to be moving into more of a contractor style arrangement with DFAT.

    My experience is that NGO managers are most likely to be concerned about not offending their individual and corporate donors and the degree and focus of advocacy is often shaped by this.

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