4 C4D Practices That Make You a Smart Advocate

Photograph by the Author, West Bank, 2016

Turns out that the best development communication sometimes has nothing to do with communicating about your development organization. A few weeks ago, I went on a field visit for diplomats, organized by the advocacy manager of a well-known international NGO. Once at the Bedouin community, the community spokesperson, the school’s principal and a local NGOs held their briefings while the advocacy manager, an international, stayed in the back. After the visit, she handed out a fact sheet with some data, statistics and factual background notes. The sheet had a tiny logo in the corner. That’s it. The advocacy manager had chosen her role to be that of a connector who facilitates the access of local voices to potential donors and decision makers. For that, I remember her and her organization more than for any mind-blowing presentation she herself could have given.

“But what about visibility?”, you may ask. Isn’t it the goal of development communication to make your own work and approaches known? Well, welcome to the crossroad where development communication parts into institutional communication and communication for development.

Advocacy in Development Communication – Institutional Communication vs. C4D
Screenshot from the “Communication for Development Manual” by the Swiss Development Cooperation

Just like a TV audience, donors often determine which project gets funded (Yeoh, 2016, p. 40).  In institutional communication, we ask ourselves how to best advocate towards the donor and how to give him or her a positive feeling about our organization. Pursuing this goal, many INGOs, have decided to only tell the positive stories. (Lombardi, 2016, p. 45).

In her article “Don’t create a mood, just tell good stories”, Lombardi rightfully argues that this approach often fails to do justice to the story we want to tell. Here, C4D opts for a different approach: the storytelling process is based on the needs of the story, rather than that of the audience. Instead of choosing only the misery, or only enthusiastic accounts, they tell the whole story, acknowledging its complexity and the broad spectrum of emotions involved (Seay 2012, p.12).  Something else sets C4D advocacy apart from institutional advocacy: Rather than narrating on their protagonist’s behalf, the NGO takes the role of a connector that brings the storytellers own words directly to the audience. Here are two mind-blowing stories that were told by NGOs using this approach:





These stories are so powerful and captivating because they are told with the voices of those we never hear in such length. The protagonists do not only contribute through a one-liner about how organization x changed their life, and these are not the two minutes upbeat videos we have grown so used to. But through these stories, distant others become real people, with complex, yet relatable emotions. Meanwhile, and perhaps without knowing, those who facilitate these processes become smart advocates.


The Power of Smart Advocacy: 4 Examples

Smart advocacy as defined by Seay (2012) centers on the idea of empowering local voices to participate in advocacy that concerns them, to decide which stories they want to tell and to take part in the way they are told. I believe that smart advocacy goes hand in hand with C4D and that almost every C4D practice can be turned into smart advocacy. Here are four examples: 


1)    Participatory Digital Storytelling

Participatory communication uses different media, such as film, photography, audio, writing and drawings to foster self-representation and a plurality of narratives; people tell their own stories through their own images, words and voices. Methods range from participatory videos, community-published zines, or recording people’s memories of a specific event. These processes of storytelling are as important as the results, which can be used for both, advocacy and to spark dialogues within and between communities.

Useful Resources: Insights into Participatory Video, Transformative Storytelling for Social Change, Insight Share Participatory Storytelling


2)    Addressing (Mis)representations in the Development Sector

An important mandate of C4D is to open up conversations about the development sector itself and to dismantle one-sided representations in advocacy material. This can include multimedia-campaigns that draw attention to negative stereotypes, capacity buildings on participatory advocacy for NGOs, and initiatives that let aid beneficiaries comment on the way in which they are representation towards donor communities.

Useful resources: Radi-Aid (A project that dismantles representations in the development sector), Barbie Savior (a satirical blog about voluntourism), The WhyDev Blog


3)    Crowd-Solving

In her amazing article “We need to stop telling people they’re doing development wrong” Rachel Kuzyp reveals a hidden trend in the development sector: While we are quick in telling young, motivated people that voluntourism is wrong, we leave little opportunities for them to respond to our advocacy campaigns beyond monetary donations. Here Crowd-Solving becomes an incredibly useful tool for smart advocacy. Crowd-Solving uses a bottom-up approach to problem-solving and gives many individuals the chance to contribute solutions to development challenges following an advocacy campaign. Usually, crowd-solving works similar to crowd-funding; it uses digital platforms that make it easy for eager young people to participate through their minds rather than their pocket money.

Useful resources: Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding Explained, Crowdsolving Techopedia Definition, Article: Can he crowdfund solutions for Palestine where foreign aid failed?


4) Organizing Tours and Visits

Just as I wrote in my introduction, NGOs can take up the role of connectors that facilitate exchange and meetings between decision makers or the media and community members who are willing to speak out. Helping people to access the right channels and to convey their own needs and perspective will always make a stronger case then speaking for them.

Useful resources: The BBC Listening Project,  Book: The Force of Listening, Article about the Social Media Bus Project for Media Makers in Palestine

Photograph by the Author, West Bank, 2016


Offline Sources

Kurzyp, R. (2016). We need to stop telling people they’re doing development wrong. In Fresh and Frank Voices in Ending Poverty (pp. 49-54). WhyDev.

Lombardi, D. (2016). Don’t create a mood, just tell good stories. In Fresh and Frank Voices in Ending Poverty (pp. 45-49). WhyDev.

Seay, L. (2012.). Avoiding “Badvocacy”: How to Do No Harm While Doing Good. In Beyond Kony2012. (pp. 109-118). Leanpub book.









  1. Hi Iuna,
    I think you make some excellent points in this blogpost. Communications discussions with NGO staff is often tend to corner in on which organisation/donor logo needs to appear instead of what is the best way to convey the message or bring the issue to the agenda of media and policy makers. Sure some donors have strict requirements that all products purchased with their funding needs to be marked, but I think an open mindset is way more effective. Well told stories, where, like in the videos you show, the beneficiaries or people affected are put in the centre are one of the best ways to communicate an issue.

    At a media development organisation that I consult for, we often advise other NGOs to focus on the issue not the mentioning of the NGO or its programs. One way we would do this ourselves (we had a big USAID funded health media program for almost 8 years) was to invite journalist for thematic round tables, where the voices and stories of case studies would be central and experts (like doctors and government officials) would be available for comments and interviews.

    In general, I think there is a trend towards communicating data and evidence of effectiveness of development interventions the aid and development sector. I think that the two can complement each other well, but of course data may not strike an emotional string with the audience in the same way and on the other hand donors eyes tend to lean towards measurable evidence. Working for an big institution I’m sure that you have come across this dilemma, I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

  2. Max Filip Sundqvist

    Dear Iuna,

    Thank you for a very interesting and enlightening post. I found it interesting to read about your experiences and how this relates to aid work. Your discussions about aid work and ICTs is important. I come to think of whether we live in a time where we have great opportunities (In a sense opportunities come with responsibilities) since we can reach people in ways never seen before. ICTs in general, and perhaps Social Media in particular seems like an interesting opportunity to get alternative narratives out there. Now, I believe there is a kind of fundamental problem in the current communications sector that perhaps needs to be addressed. What is Google, Facebook and all that? Well, basically when we use this platforms we become signal transmiters that involve with others. They are for “free” since what is really being sold is us, our attention. Obviously, the attention is the new commodity online, big companies fight for it and offer it for a prize. So how can we who want to imagine a different world, tell stories of different people break through these tremendous economic interests? (Because at the end of the day, even though they will beg to differ, big tech cannot give equal value to the attention of different groups, i.e. the attention of middle class Americans is more valuable than the attention of farmers in Ghana as the latter lack the buying power that will justify targeting them as consumers.) I am curious about your thoughts on this, how could NGOs kind of bypass these financial interests that will tend to twerk campaigns towards “donors” as they are the active part in the attention-economy-relationship?

    Thank once more for a nice post.

    With kind regards,

    • Iuna

      Dear Max,

      Thank you so much for your thoughts, I really appreciate the attention with which you read my article! You said that at the end of the day, big tech cannot give equal value to the attention of different groups. I absolutely agree that Google, Facebook and Co are not neutral but are indeed actors with a big stake in this debate. in my first blog post “Digital Rights Denied: Palestinians, ICT, and Shrinking Cyberspace” you can read about the huge role these organizations play in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where they clearly take a side. I believe the only way for NGOs to “bypass”, as you put it, these conflicts is to address them openly, or more so: to support those who fight against these injustices. Here in my article about what INGOs can do to support digital rights I am trying to gather some thoughts on this:

      Turn the Spotlight on Digital Right Defenders
      Finally, INGOs can produce their own advocacy by turning the spotlight on local media freedom advocates and tell their stories while they are busy advocating for others. Making it clear that the international community is aware of digital rights violations and those who fight against them can put pressure on authorities who violate digital rights and tech companies that comply.

      It is indeed a bit ironic to use facebook in order to call facebook out, but in a way it can also be quite powerful. A vanguard in this context is the organization 7amleh, who are currently running a big media campaign against Google’s bias towards Palestinians…check out this video from their campaign: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ly-7K5ofDY.

      So ultimately my answer is that currently, big players like google and facebook are still hard to avoid if you want to get your narratives out there. However, that does not mean that you can’t use this very same platforms to raise attention for their negative conduct in issues of development or conflict.

      Does this make sense? 🙂


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