Funder by the Department of Human Services Auspiced by Our Community

Help Sheet

Identifying and using support networks

No matter how hard you try, you'll never get there on your own. Just about every successful advocacy campaign got there because of support from other organisations and members of the community. It's important to identify possible support networks and use them as best you can.

Advocacy can produce some strange bedfellows. It can lead to feminists teaming up with Christian fundamentalists (as it did in a recent debate over pornography) or radical environmentalists joining forces with traditionally conservative anti-development groups.

When starting out, think about all the issues that fall under your campaign umbrella. Are there any residual effects that might excite another group?

You might be campaigning against the use of force in acute psychiatric settings because your group experiences such force as abusive but your desired outcome might also mean that a union representing the rights of nurses is also concerned for the physical safety of their members who are expected to enforce systemic demands for such practice. These two groups have both the same agenda and a very different agenda.

The same situation might exist if a consumer group which has a policy of critiquing the medical model reliance on DSM iv (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual edition 4 - the major reference document used by psychiatrists to make psychiatric diagnoses) decides to go into a campaign partnership with a carer organisation to improve mental health services in a major regional centre. Again, these two groups have both the same agenda (better services and better lives for people diagnosed with mental illness) and a radically different agenda (the medical model is central to one group and totally unacceptable to the other).

Campaign partners and institutional power

There is a further complication around campaign partners that needs to be considered. Different groups with different agendas which are working towards forming partnerships for a campaign, for example, rarely have equal quantities of institutional power.

That is, in reality, the nurses' union is going to end up with much more influence on the strategic control of the campaign mentioned above than a small consumer group, and the carer organisation backed up by medical model organisations such as beyondblue and SANE or medical model programs such as Mental Health First Aid or Mental Health Matters is also going to end up with greater control than the small consumer partner.

Thinking outside the square

When starting out on a campaign it's worthwhile putting feelers out to see what other organisations are out there and what they are doing. At the very least you should be doing a Google search (and hopefully you'll be digging a little deeper than that).

Think outside the square a little on this one. If you're a group united by shared bad experiences of (psychiatric) institutions you may have common ground with organisations representing people with physical and intellectual disabilities, for example.

There are organisations such as Sisters Inside, which represents women in prison, groups representing survivors of childhood abuse, neglect and trauma, survivors of trauma, refugees who have experienced institutions, victims of torture and people who have experienced poverty and homelessness who might be terrific partners to your cause.

In the end it might not be the mental health sector that comes up with potential partners for specific campaigns.

It's also important to identify the demographic that's going to be interested in your campaign. This is particularly important for highly localised campaigns.

If you're campaigning to have traffic lights installed at a dangerous intersection, a letter drop in the surrounding neighbourhood blocks informing people of a public meeting could drum up significant support for the issue.

Using Support Networks

Once you've identified a few organisations working in the same area, or even on the same campaign, get in contact and establish what's already being done. Is there is a chance for collaboration, or even just getting a bit of a hand in some areas - using their member lists, sharing your resources, swapping contacts, endorsing a campaign, or actually forming an alliance?

There are many ways this can take place, all depending on the circumstances. Occasionally it does happen that you find yourselves running exactly the same campaign as another organisation. There are three ways of dealing with this. First, you can abandon your own campaign and simply join up with the others who are running the campaign - this tends to happen if you're a loose organisation formed for one specific purpose. The second scenario is that you form a coalition and fight with a united front. The third option is for both of you to run your campaigns simultaneously. One choice is not automatically better than the other, and the one you choose will depend on your circumstances.

If you choose the third option and run simultaneous campaigns, it's in everyone's best interest to maintain a high level of communication. Often this means having someone sit in on the meetings of the other organisation. It often also means that you should arrange for your tactics and approaches to differ, in order to fight the campaign from different angles.

Assuming, however, that you're the only organisation running with this particular campaign and that you've made contact with like-minded organisations, there are several ways that they could help you.

Language

For local mental health consumer groups a campaign to bring about change is a balance between being straight, honest and to the point - speaking your truth loudly and clearly - and finding a language to use that doesn't alienate the entire community and reinforce discriminatory attitudes about the nature of mental illness.

This is particularly important in a small closed community such as a country town.

Be prepared to take some advice on how to get this balance right. This is one area where an experienced campaign partner might be a great help.

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