Of Avocados and Advocacy
Updated: Nov 10, 2020
As Naturopathic Doctors, we deeply understand the social and ecological determinants of health. We educate our patients, and encourage them to improve their behaviours.
However, behaviour change is very difficult when there are many forces that influence a person’s capacity to make healthy choices. Most determinants of health are not within the control of the individual, and require advocacy to change circumstances on a broader scale.
You Say Avocado, I Say Advocacy
NDs love avocados! The metaphor of the avocado has been used to talk about advocacy at the micro, meso, and macro level. Naturopathic Doctors are generally quite skilled at the micro level. We tend to have warm, inviting clinical environments that contribute to building trust, and establishing intimate working relationships. The attempt to dig into root causes of concerns allows us to truly build capacity with patients at the one-on-one level to advocate for change in modifiable determinants of health.
But what if patients are unable to access naturopathic services due to cost, or are unable to reduce their exposure to environmental toxins because of circumstance? This limits our ability to positively influence their health. Impacting those determinants of health requires meso or macro-level advocacy.
Naturopaths Are Natural Advocates
Our advocacy tends to focus on improving the status and profile of our profession. As we succeed in that endeavour, ourgrowing credibility will create greater opportunities to be agents of change. However, that shouldn’t prevent us from exploring the huge variety of ways we can engage in advocacy, individually and collectively.
Why do Naturopathic Doctors demonstrate an aptitude for advocacy? We are accustomed to being critical, to solving unsolvable problems, and to thinking in systems. We have all chosen to resist the status quo - we could call that “social non-cooperation” - and disrupt healthcare.
198 Solutions: Nonviolent Action
There is a spectrum of strategies and tactics that can be used to work towards a particular goal. While lobbying is the tactic often used by professional organizations, Gene Sharp was one of the first to formally describe methods of nonviolent action - 198 of them! Aric McBay designed a system to organize them further (who doesn't love a good taxonomy!). Different tactics are more appropriate for different advocates/situations/audiences/goals, and intelligent campaigning requires thoughtful, deliberate planning.
7 Steps to Designing an Advocacy Campaign
St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto has taken tangible action to build capacity for social justice advocacy in their family health team. Their toolkit is an excellent resource to help identify and design a campaign.
Here are some suggested planning steps and considerations, relevant to naturopathic doctors:
Step 1: Identify a Need
What do you care about? Whatever you take on, you have to have a passion for it if it is going to be sustainable. Is there an opportunity here for change? Are people talking about this? Is it on the agenda or in the news? Is there an upcoming election? What threats might there be to this effort? What are the potential costs?
Step 2: Identify Campaign Lead or Co-Leads and Community Partners
Who else is already working on this? Who has resources/skills that would complement yours? It is often successful (and more respectful) to approach groups that have been working on an issue for some time to offer support and solidarity. How can we help? What can we do to support you?
Step 3: Identify Goals and Objectives
What do you want your campaign to accomplish? Be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timebound.
Step 4: Identify Target Audience
Who has the power to implement your proposed change? Who are you trying to convince? What do you want them to do? This will shape your message and your tactics.
Step 5: Choose Your Tactics
Education? Editorials? Direct action? What is most appropriate to your goals, target audience available resources, risk tolerance, etc.?
Step 6: Develop a Plan with an Estimated Timeline and Resource Needs
Overplan! Your planning will help you to identify what you will need to see your campaign through to the end. Think about how long it will take you to implement your plan; how many people will you need; what sort of financial or in-kind contributions do you require? It’s always wise to overestimate your needs - just in case!
Step 7: Identify and Approach Potential Funding Sources
Who are your allies? Don’t forget about in-kind donations. Allied organizations may be willing to provide resources, connections, promotional opportunities, etc.
Let’s Plan a Campaign!
Does this sound daunting? Start small? Are your kids leaving their Lego lying around (threatening the health of your feet)? Practice on them! Is there a tree that is going to be cut down in your neighbourhood? Rally your community! Are you unhappy with the excessive packaging used by one of your product suppliers? Coordinate with other clients! Think naturopathic medicine should be included as a social assistance benefit? Let’s plan a campaign!
NEST is here to support members of the naturopathic profession to take action on environmental and social issues that impact the health of people and the planet. Is there something you care about, but aren’t sure where to begin? Perhaps you have some great ideas, but need some reinforcements. Let us help you plan!