Blog Entry 17: There is no "i" in Advocacy

Greetings everyone and welcome to another post from our Issues & Advocacy Roundtable team. Believe it or not, but we are actually rapidly approaching the end of our initial “scheduled run” of blog posts. With that in mind, I decided that I would like today’s post to focus on a theme that has come up in many of the previous posts, and that is the importance of teamwork for effective advocacy. Or to put it another way (and to state the obvious), the more coordinated voices that you have working with you, the greater chance that your advocacy will achieve the outcomes that you are hoping for. So let’s take a moment to look at some of the ways that this teamwork can manifest itself, including taking a look back at several of our previous entries.

Since most archives do not operate independent of a larger institution, some of your most important advocacy teammates are your non-archivist coworkers.  Ideally speaking not only do you want as many coworkers as possible to be aware of the archives value, but you also want them to have the ability to articulate that value to others when appropriate.  In trying to build these relationships it is important that you have an appropriate elevator speech that conveys the institutional value of the archives to those who are not involved in the day-to-day operations of it.  Now obviously you are not going to be giving the same speech verbatim every time you talk to a colleague about the archives and its needs (i.e. simple advocacy), but when you do have these conversations with colleagues, it should be done in a way that it matches up with the language and spirit of your elevator speech, and consequently it will be a message that should be easily understood (not full of jargon), and simple to repeat when desired.

Staying on this path for another moment, it is usually the case that most effective advocate you can have for the archives within an institution is the resource allocator/supervisor that oversees the archives While not always possible, if you are able to build an effective relationship with this person, a relationship that is built on mutual trust and understanding, then that person can become an extremely strong advocate on behalf of the archives.  One of the unique aspects of this particular relationship is that due to the nature of their position, the individual will probably have greater ability to advocate “behind the scenes” than just about any of your other potential allies.

Another specific example of a positive mutual relationship that can be of benefit to our advocacy attempts is with your institutions “public affairs” office.  It has been my experience that most public affairs love their institutions archives, as the archives can supply them with historic knowledge and materials that can provide context or hooks for contemporary issues that they are working on.  So if you have built a good relationship with these individuals by connecting them to valuable archival materials, then perhaps the next time you need to work with the media, you can seek out their expertise to help craft your press release, find out who to contact, etc.

Of course your team of advocacy allies should comprise of more than just your co-workers.  One of the largest potential network of allies you will have is your community of professional colleagues.  Heck, you already haveSAA’s Issues & Advocacy Roundtable reaching out to work with you through different channels.  Additionally, we have already had two great blog entries that have shared different perspectives on how to build a local group of colleagues who can advocate for one another.

One final pool of potential allies are the patrons that make use of our archives.  From genealogists, to students, to academic scholars, our users can often become some of our most enthusiastic advocates.  Though, for this to occur they have to know when we could use their help, and just as importantly how they can help.  Some of the ways that we can reach out to these individuals include direct conversations, press releases, and taking advantage of ever-growing social media opportunities.  At the same time you want to let them know what exactly they can do to help.  For example, if you are asking them to write letters to public officials, you should let them know who to write, and how to write an effective letter (or even provide a template for them).

Finally, keep in mind is that there is no magic recipe for advocacy success, but the more effective allies that you can create, the better your chances of achieving your goals. Now best of luck to you with your advocacy work, and don't be a stranger if we can help you in your efforts.