This article has been published in Enabling Education Review – Special Issue 2015 – Inclusive Education Advocacy
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Introducing this special edition on inclusive education advocacy
There is an increasing focus among non-governmental organisation (NGOs), UN agencies and other inter-governmental organisations (IGOs) on advocacy around inclusive education, yet there are relatively few documented examples of ‘inclusive education advocacy in action’.

With support from Open Society Foundations, therefore, EENET has sought to investigate and document inclusive education advocacy initiatives. We hope that the case studies published in this special edition of Enabling Education Review will help to fill the information gap and provide advocates with practical examples that will motivate and inspire.

Inclusive education advocacy
Advocacy is fundamental to the on-going effort to make education more inclusive for all. It is not just a process through which awareness is raised, but through which attitudes and practices are changed.

Advocacy for inclusive education takes place wherever education is being discussed, planned and experienced: in family homes; community meetings; schools and classrooms; teacher education institutions; government ministries; civil society, NGO and IGO offices; national and international conferences; and many other forums. It involves all education stakeholders in moving towards a more inclusive education system and ultimately a more inclusive society.

Often when inclusive education advocacy is discussed, there is more of a focus on the advocacy messages than on the process of doing advocacy. Of course the messages are important, but equally important is the ‘nitty gritty’ detail of the advocacy process – the strategies that advocates use to get their messages across, and the way they address the challenges faced in doing advocacy work.

This special edition should help those working in education to better understand how to turn advocacy ideas and theories into appropriate practical action.

Defining advocacy
Not everyone shares the same understanding of what advocacy means.

In a recent publication for UNESCO on advocacy for inclusion in teacher education (see page 11), we drew on the work of EENET and other organisations to define advocacy in relation to inclusive education in the following way:

“Advocacy is: ‘…a set of organized activities designed to influence the policies and actions of governments, international institutions, the private sector and civil society to achieve positive changes for children’s lives’.1

Breaking this down, we can further explain advocacy as:

  • a deliberate process of influencing those who make decisions;
  • making a case in favour of a cause and getting others to support that cause;
  • seeking to raise awareness among decision-makers and the public at the same time, if possible, so that policy and attitude change reinforce each other;
  • a tool to help us push for developments, reforms and/or implementation of policies;
  • a way of supporting or enhancing programme strategies for solving problems or making changes.”2

To further unpack the term ‘advocacy’ we highlighted several key principles:

Advocacy is change-oriented
Advocacy seeks to bring about clear and specific changes in a particular context and/or for particular stakeholders. It is not a process of complaining about an undesired situation, but of raising awareness about how and why the situation is unfair or unacceptable, and pushing for clearly defined changes that would make the situation fair or acceptable.

Advocacy is about engaging constructively with those we seek to influence
Because advocacy seeks to make changes rather than just to voice concerns, we need to have a constructive relationship with those who have the power to bring about our desired changes. Advocacy is therefore built on notions of diplomacy and negotiation, and involves dialogue, not just demands. Effective advocacy emphasizes the positive (as well as pointing out problems) and seeks to be constructive when engaging with decision-makers. Advocates need to highlight promising practices and outline possible ‘ways forward’.

Advocacy is evidence-based
We cannot highlight an unacceptable situation and expect our calls for change to be taken seriously unless we have sound evidence to illustrate that situation and back up our analysis of how and why it is unacceptable. For instance, if we want to point out that teachers are currently receiving an inadequate education to effectively address the diverse needs of learners, and advocate for them to receive better programmes and courses on inclusive education, we need evidence that shows what the existing training is like, and a clear analysis of why this is not providing teachers with the skills and knowledge they need. We also need evidence that shows the validity and potential of the alternatives or solutions we are proposing. This might mean, for instance, gathering examples of promising practices that can be used to back up advocacy messages.

Advocacy is built on partnerships
In most situations, one person speaking out on their own is unlikely to have the power to effect major change. Advocacy therefore is a collaborative process involving the mobilization of partners – e.g. individuals may come together as a group to call for change; organizations may come together as a consortium or network to pool their evidence base and strengthen their voice in discussion with decision-makers. Collaboration not only enhances the (collective) voice of advocates, but is important for ensuring coherent, consistent messages. Partnerships in advocacy ensure that calls for change are not undermined by multiple/conflicting messages that confuse decision-makers or give them an excuse to discredit the advocates. Collaboration also ensures that different stakeholders’ perspectives are taken into consideration when developing the advocacy objectives, activities and messages.”3

The advocacy case studies
The six advocacy case studies in this special edition tell stories from a range of different perspectives and stakeholders – from the level of schools and classrooms, civil society organisations, government ministries and beyond.

Some of the advocacy examples offer a broad focus on education systems and access to quality education for all children, while others have a more specific focus on issues such as gender and disability. Collectively, these stories go beyond a narrow understanding of advocacy as being limited to media campaigns. They demonstrate a wider range of advocacy dimensions (as mentioned above) and show that advocacy is change-oriented, involves constructive engagement, is evidence-based and built on partnerships.

The six case studies broadly fall into two categories:

  1. advocacy work done with IGOs and governments
  2. advocacy work done directly with school communities.

Advocacy work with IGOs and governments

  • Bridge of Hope has written about their involvement in advocating with a consortium of NGOs and government ministries on the creation of new legislation and budgeting processes in Armenia to support a move from special schooling to inclusive education.
  • Open Societies Institute’s story looks at their advocacy with government officials and civil society organisations in Tajikistan to facilitate a shared understanding of inclusive education, better planning and budgeting, and a co-ordinated effort towards developing inclusive education in the country.
  • The article from the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education describes their work to gather evidence to inform advocacy with ministries of education across Europe to support the inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream schools. It also summarises key ‘asks’ for policy-makers.

Advocacy work with school communities

  • The Norwegian Refugee Council and UNESCO tell the story of their work in Gaza, Palestine, with teachers, school managers, children and parents. The work focuses on raising awareness about inclusive education and demonstrating the practical (and advocacy) benefits of active, child-led, project-based learning approaches.
  • Dante Rigmalia’s story from Indonesia is about the process of advocacy in ensuring an individual child’s right to participate in regular schooling with his peers.
  • The Norwegian Afghanistan Committee’s story focuses on their advocacy work with school communities to change attitudes and practices around girls’ education in Afghanistan.

Doing good inclusive education advocacy is, in itself, a way of practising inclusive education. It is not just about telling people what to do, it is about working with people to establish a common and practically grounded understanding of what inclusive education means. In this way, advocacy should support people in challenging stereotypes and addressing their own barriers to inclusion. It follows that advocacy is a process of supporting people to be reflective in making the connections between inclusive education concepts and practice in their own lives.

The case studies shared in this booklet draw out important aspects of the process of doing advocacy work, by sharing the strategies and solutions that advocates have used to affect change.

Ian Kaplan

1 Definition used by Save the Children:
2 IPPF. 2007. Taking Action to End Child Marriage: A Guide for Programmers and Activists. London, International Planned Parenthood Federation, p. 19.
3 Kaplan, I. & Lewis, I. (2013) ‘Introduction’ – Promoting Inclusive Teacher Education – Advocacy Guide. Bangkok: UNESCO (pp 8-9).