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How to Start Your SMART Advocacy Journey

SMART Advocacy is a collaborative process that brings together advocates and allies from different backgrounds to create change and sustain progress. Read on for tips and tricks to tackle your own advocacy challenges.

Is there a change you want to see in the world? Have you considered that there might be one person with the power to create that change? Or wondered what you would say to persuade them to act?

This is the power of SMART Advocacy, a disciplined and proven approach that identifies key opportunities, changemakers, and arguments to achieve the change you want to see. From ensuring regular trash pickup in your community to convincing world leaders to allocate funding for universal health care, no issue is too big or too small to be tackled by SMART Advocacy.

SMART cycle

You may be familiar with making specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals and objectives. SMART Advocacy applies those principles to change-making by providing a practical approach focused on short timeframes and step-by-step actions to reach a bigger goal. The approach is adaptable, highly context-sensitive, and able to address issues on local, national, and international stages. By design, it is a collaborative process that brings together advocates and allies from different backgrounds to create change and sustain progress.

To embark on your SMART Advocacy journey, check out our quick start guide below:

  1. Learn more about SMART Advocacy. Visit SMARTAdvocacy.org to get oriented with our quick overview video (2 minutes) or launch webinar (90 minutes). These videos tell you more about SMART Advocacy and its well-established record of success. Hear from advocates who have been using SMART Advocacy to improve policies and increase funding for family planning and other issues.
  2. Download the SMART Advocacy User’s Guide and resources.
    • The SMART Advocacy User’s Guide is designed to walk you through the nine-step process on your own or with a working group. As an editable PDF, the tool guides you through each step. Easy-to-follow exercises focus your thinking and capture key information to build your advocacy strategy.
    • The website also contains a user worksheet and facilitation PowerPoint. With the user worksheet, you build your SMART Advocacy strategy in a Word document for easy sharing. The facilitation PowerPoint enables you to lead a group through the process. It includes tips for challenging steps and making exercises engaging and interactive for either an in-person or virtual collaboration environment.
    • Everything is available in English and French. Spanish materials will be available soon.
  3. Convene a small group of like-minded supporters and get to work! Although it can also be used by larger coalitions or on your own, SMART Advocacy is best applied with a small group of committed individuals, usually 10–15 people. If you make choices through each step and complete the exercises as a team, you will reach consensus on a goal, SMART objective, decision-maker, advocacy ask, and activities. You will also have a communication and monitoring plan which is essential to lasting change.
  4. Adapt the approach to your needs. Do you want agreement on the best advocacy opportunities for your issue and which opportunity you should tackle first? Start with steps 1–3. Need a fully fleshed out, evidence-based advocacy strategy and work plan? Focus on completing steps 1–6. Want to incorporate a communication, monitoring, and learning plan along with your strategy? Plan to complete all nine steps. Whichever option you choose, SMART Advocacy can meet your needs.
  5. Seek those with more experience. As you develop and implement your advocacy work plan, you may find that your group would benefit from a consultation with a more experienced SMART Advocate. The Find a SMART Advocate resource on our website enables you to locate and reach out to SMART Advocates near you.
Members of the Mississippi Youth Council (MYCouncil) advocate at the state capitol around sex education in their schools. | Nina Robinson/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment.
Members of the Mississippi Youth Council (MYCouncil) advocate at the state capitol around sex education in their schools. | Nina Robinson/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment.

Build on our experience and be a part of our community. The SMART Advocacy guide will help you achieve the change you want to see. To stay connected and receive more tips and tricks, join the SMART Advocacy listserv.

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Sarah Whitmarsh

Communication Manager

Sarah leads AFP’s advocacy communication strategy design and implementation and oversees media advocacy efforts in six countries. Prior to joining AFP, Sarah worked at University Research Co., LLC (URC), a global health company based in Bethesda, MD, and led communication for the International Pharmaceutical Federation’s Pharmacy Education Taskforce at the University of London’s School of Pharmacy. Sarah received her B.S. in Microbiology from the University of Georgia in Athens. She was awarded a Roy H. Park Fellowship to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism for her master's studies, specializing in medical journalism.

Vira David-Rivera

Communication Officer, Advance Family Planning

Vira David-Rivera has experience in improving sexual and reproductive health policy and programs through data-driven strategies and population-level interventions. Vira started her career using data visualization techniques to encourage family planning and adolescent health programs to uncover gaps, locate critical populations, and demonstrate impact. Vira worked with Population Council and EngenderHealth as well as provided technical support in 12 countries and more than 20 organizations to enhance policies, programs, and clinical services. Most recently, she served as the assistant director of Adolescent and Reproductive Health at the Baltimore City Health Department to ensure access to sexual health education, effective family planning, and youth leadership opportunities. Vira earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from John Hopkins University and a Master of Arts in Social and Economic Development from New School University.