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Tips from the Field: From Policy Adoption to Implementation


Maternal and Reproductive Health advocates discuss the MRH budget with Ministers of Parliament in Tanzania

Advocating for policy change can be a long and winding road. It’s often characterized by fits and starts – sometimes for every one step forward, you have to take two steps back. Yet even within this unpredictable environment, it’s natural to think the end-game of an advocacy campaign is the passage of legislation. It’s that signed piece of paper that will soon officially become the law of the land that is the culmination of all the hard work and dedication, and it’s going to strengthen the country and change lives for the better. Or is it?

What advocates may not realize is that with the passage of new legislation, a new advocacy campaign springs to life, focused on implementing the new law effectively so it can achieve its intended outcomes. If this step is taken for granted or misunderstood, it could limit the legislation’s effectiveness and impact.

At the Global Health Advocacy Incubator, we’ve worked with civil society organizations across the globe to pass and implement strong public health policies, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. During that time, we’ve learned that while implementation varies by local context and issue, the principal elements are actually fairly consistent across countries and cultures. Based on those experiences, we’ve distilled a few core concepts we’ve learned about policy implementation to help advocates plan for this phase of the campaign.

  1. The goal of policy implementation is high compliance:
    Throughout the twists and turns of an implementation campaign, it’s important to always have the end-goal in mind – to ensure the law achieves its objectives. That requires high compliance to the law, and it should drive your decision making.
  2. Implementation requires a dedicated advocacy campaign:
    Just like during an advocacy campaign to pass a policy, you need to map the implementation process from start to finish, identify key decision makers and external stakeholders, and build political and public support through the media, grassroots mobilization, and direct engagement. In some instances, you may have to deal with external opposition (industry or otherwise) actively trying to delay, weaken, or repeal the new law. The levers you may need to pull will vary greatly based on political context, but regardless, advocates should be ready for another big push. Seems like a lot of work, right? It often is.
  3. Understand the roles of government and civil society during policy implementation:
    The government is primarily responsible for policy implementation. In some areas, like enforcing the new law, the government is solely responsible. That doesn’t mean civil society should not be involved in implementation. Typically, civil society organizations play a complementary role, primarily by providing technical expertise and strategic media support. Understanding the nuances of these various roles – and how civil society and government must interact and intersect at various points in the process – is critical to success.
  4. Civil society must balance the roles of partner and advocate:
    Ideally, civil society and government are acting in partnership during policy implementation to ensure the law will achieve its intended outcomes. However, there are times civil society must put their advocate hat back on to ensure strong regulations are drafted and adopted, a comprehensive implementation plan is put in place, enforcement is effective and consistent, and the overall process is moving forward in a timely fashion. This role helps civil society hold the government accountable for successful policy implementation. Advocates must navigate these roles delicately and be ready pivot depending on how the implementation process unfolds.
  5. A public education campaign is critical:
    A strategic communications strategy to inform the public of changes to the law, and—later—promote its impact, is a vital component of an implementation campaign. For some policies, certain constituencies may be particularly affected by the new law and will need dedicated outreach. For instance, if a smoke-free law is passed, restaurants and bars will need to understand exactly what they need to do to comply with the new law. Media campaigns can also raise awareness about changes to policy, build and maintain public support, and initiate or reinforce behavior change.
  6. Compliance assessments help identify policy or enforcement gaps:
    Not every new law works perfectly. Often, government or civil society will issue studies to understand the degree to which the law is being obeyed and enforced. For instance, if a law is passed mandating the use of helmets on motorcycles, the government will want to understand whether the public is complying as well as how often citations are being issued by enforcement officers for non-compliance. Through these compliance studies, gaps, loopholes, or enforcement problems may come to light. These issues may trigger a new advocacy campaign to strengthen the existing law or improve enforcement mechanisms.
  7. Don’t forget about funding!
    The job of an advocate is never done. Successful implementation requires resources, so the government will need to appropriate adequate funding. If current funding levels aren’t enough to effectively implement the law, advocates will need to urge policy makers to appropriate additional funds. Navigating the budgetary process can be tricky – particularly in resource-strapped countries. Check back later for some of the lessons we learned on budget advocacy from our work in maternal and reproductive health.

Interested in learning more about policy implementation? Email us at info@advocacyincubator.org.

Stay tuned for more tips from the field!