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What is advocacy?

Overview

The best way to protect our cultural heritage is to demonstrate how much of a difference it makes in all aspects of people’s lives. 

Advocacy can play an important role in raising your profile, demonstrating positive outcomes and securing funding.

This toolkit will give examples of who to speak to and what to speak about. This does not have to be difficult or time intensive – every museum can develop an advocacy strategy that fits their size, resources and ambitions.

What is advocacy?

Museums play a vital role in the lives of individuals, families and communities across Scotland. 

Although you may already know this, do the people who are making decisions about the future of your organisation? 

Advocacy is any activity that promotes your organisation with the aim of influencing decisions within political, economic, and social systems or institutions. 

This can involve public advocacy – telling the world about the impact of your museum through social media, local press and events.

Or it can involve direct advocacy – speaking to politicians and decision makers about your work, the challenges you face and the opportunities you have to grow your impact further.

In some cases – although not normally – speaking to your MSP may count as regulated lobbying, and would require you to register this conversation. For more information please see our guidance on lobbying. 

Museums are making an extraordinary impact in our communities every day, and the work you do is valuable. Let's work together to help share this amazing work.

How to start your advocacy campaign

The most effective messages are designed specifically for their audience, emphasising shared values and taking into account their priorities. While the public are mainly interested in what you offer as a place to visit, decision makers and funders will be interested in how you can show your impact. 

A useful exercise may be creating a ‘stakeholder map’ where you can identify your audiences, their priorities and how you can demonstrate your impact. A template is available here.

Your stakeholders will be specific to your organisation – but may include funders, your board, local politicians, government agencies or community groups.

Start by considering your stakeholder’s top priorities – for example, a local authority is always interested in providing high quality services to residents. You may be able to identify specific ambitions by looking at strategy documents or local news coverage.

You should aim to match your evidence with the priorities of your stakeholders – this is the most effective way of showing why your museum should matter to them.

Learn more

The Culture Counts Toolkit offers further guidance on advocacy. Although encompassing culture in a broader sense, the toolkit gives: help to find your local policymakers; key evidence on the impact of culture; ideas about engaging with your local community; and tips on lobbying politicians and getting involved in elections.

The Museums Association offers some good general advice on advocacy.

Also, the newly-updated Museum Association Code of Ethics for Museums is essential reading. It promotes three core principles: public engagement and public benefit; stewardship of collections; and individual and institutional integrity (which is particularly relevant to advocacy work).

The Association of Independent Museums’ (AIM) Economic Value of the Independent Museum Sector Toolkit provides a straightforward approach to help estimate the impact museums might have on their local economy.