By Duff Gillespie,  Project Director, Advance Family Planning

Effective, evidence-based advocacy can increase access to quality and voluntary family planning. From its beginning in 2009, the Advance Family Planning (AFP) initiative has aimed  to demonstrate just that. Using the  SMART Advocacy[1] approach, AFP advocates have achieved nearly 3,000 advocacy wins contributed to improved family planning policies, and generated $168 million in funds from national and local governments and the private sector.

What have we learned in the last decade that can help advocates in future? We offer five lessons advocates may find useful over the next decade.

1. Devolution is a Game Changer

Context: Historically, governments centralized family planning policy and funding decisions. Today, many national governments have transferred power over family planning programs to local or regional officials. Sub-national decision-makers –  governors, legislators, district medical officers, mayors, and many others—now hold the success or failure of global and national family planning commitments in their hands. The result is a kaleidoscope of local programs and policy priorities that can spur innovation and influence neighboring decision-makers as well as those in the national government.

Learning: To be effective, advocates should continually assess the diversity of local political and socioeconomic factors and be on the lookout for local leaders ready to act.

2. Advocate for Policy Implementation

Context: Compared to 30 years ago, most countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have policies promoting and supporting family planning.[2] Despite these favorable policies, policy implementation faltered in many countries.

Learning: Advocates can ask decision-makers for discrete actions such as funding or regulatory change that will facilitate the government reaching their own policy goals. Indeed, government officials very often became active players in the advocacy efforts. Civil society can play a critical partnership role in helping the government achieve policy aims that it is already on record as wanting.

3. Evidence Is Not Enough

Context: Advocates often point to “evidence-based advocacy” to highlight what contributed to their advocacy successes. The reality is that most decisions are not based solely on evidence.

Learning: Advocates need to know how emotions, ethics, and relationships factor alongside evidence in developing messages. Advocates should be strong storytellers who are able to make any evidence connect to a decision-makers personal beliefs and objectives. While evidence is not everything, developing messages based on truth and data is essential to avoid running counter to existing knowledge.

4. Local Ownership is Here to Stay

Context: Development assistance is donor driven with major donors dictating who, how, and on what their funds will be spent. External donor funds make up 45 percent of family planning funds in the Global South.[3] While donors philosophically have long embraced local ownership, they are now actually, albeit slowly changing funding strategies to support locally led, indigenous non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Many of these NGOs have limited administrative capacity and fiduciary control to compete for and be able to fully implement awarded programs, i.e., effectively spend donor funds.

Learning: The transition to local ownership would significantly shorten if donors designated more resources to organizational capacity so that local organizations would be better situated to receive and administer direct donor funding.

5. Monitor Advocacy Impact

Context: Tracking outputs and outcomes of advocacy wins is often more difficult and more expensive than achieving the initial win. And therefore, there is little interest to include and fund monitoring and evaluation activities in the overall advocacy effort.

Learning: Determining if advocacy wins resulted in the desired policy and programmatic changes is essential to progress and an important way for others to replicate success.

In conclusion, AFP’s experience suggests that change in the next decade will be incremental, at the subnational or local level, and with less headline-grabbing policy implementation. There are governments that remain hostile toward many SRHR issues, which makes advocacy feel impossible. However, advocates are equipped with the ingenuity and grit to achieve change through diverse coalitions, evidence-based strategies, and stronger local advocacy organizations.


[1] David-Rivera,V.,Whitmarsh, S., Gillespie, D., and Fredrick, B. (2021). SMART Advocacy User’s Guide. April 2021.

[2] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2021). World Population Policies 2021: Policies related to fertility. UN DESA/POP/2021/TR/NO. 1.

[3] FP2030. (2021) FP2030 Measurement Report 2021. January 2022.

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This article is a part of PSI’s ICFP 2022 Impact Magazine. Explore the magazine here.

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