Seven strategies to develop your advocacy toolkit

Right at the start it is important to identify the difference between lobbying and advocacy. Lobbying is active campaigning of the government with the view to asking policymakers to take a specific position on an item of legislation. Advocacy is about working on activities that will influence policy. It is a consistent and persistent effort to shift perceptions through regular positive activity to bring about change.

Strategy 1: identify a memorable message

It is important that you decide what your message is. As an advocate you will need to repeat it many times in different ways to a range of audiences to get it to stick.

What is the memorable message that you continue to address on a regular basis so that your school community gets a clear idea of what you are doing for them and the school? What is it that you want to keep in front of everyone’s mind? What relevant and up-todate impression do you want teachers and students to experience? What perception do you want them to have?

Strategy 2: capture killer statistics

Stating statistics can really get people to take some notice. Sometimes they need to be like bombshells.

In my closing remarks for a keynote speaker at an international conference, I made the statement that 46 per cent of Australians are illiterate. This certainly sent out a buzz among the delegates and during the morning break I had a number of folk asking me where this had come from. The statistic comes from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Adult literacy and life skills survey, summary results, 2006. This statistic relates to prose literacy, which means 46 per cent cannot read a timetable or a newspaper, or fill out a form.

Australia has over 7,000 primary schools and under the P21 element of the Australian Government’s Building the Education Revolution, libraries were very popular projects.


Data from Australian Government Building the Education Revolution Implementation Taskforce Interim report, 6 August 2010 

What does this graph say about how much schools appreciate having a school library? Does the school library become the ‘showcase real estate’ of the school? I wonder how many parents like to see the school library before they enrol their child, or how many dignitaries are taken to the school library as part of the school visit?

It is also possible for you to capture killer statistics at your school that can make people take notice. 

If you are using a booking system for your time or for the school library facilities this information can be very useful. For example, if your time is booked by a classroom teacher and you multiply this by the number of students in that class, then effectively you are engaging with ‘x’ number of students during their learning experience with you in the library. Then, work that out for the week and you might even surprise yourself. Do the same with the number of teachers you might work with during a week and work out the percentage of teachers across the whole school with whom you have collaborated in the development of classroom programs.

I love the quirky statistics that challenge me to think about how I could use the information in a different way. For example, this one from The Sydney Morning Herald - ‘The number of fixed phone lines has remained at 10.7 million since June 2000, but the number of mobile connections has increased from 8 million to 24.2 million over the same period.’

Now, with this growth of mobile devices I can link this into the need for schools to provide support for our young people to become responsible global digital citizens. Here is an opportunity to promote what the school library does by way of developing policies for classroom and playground use for mobile devices or the library programs that help students develop positive digital behaviours and awareness of their digital footprint.

Strategy 3: gather startling facts (and statements)

With this step it is possible to incorporate strategy 2.

For example, ‘In this survey, 86 (12.518 per cent) of the schools reported an annual library budget of less than $1,000. A further 113 (16.448 per cent) schools reported an annual budget of less than $5,000. In all nearly a third of the survey participants (28.996 per cent) received less than $5,000 for their school libraries. Across the whole survey group 45.123 per cent of schools received less than $10,000 as their annual budget.’ (2008,

As above, try and support the fact or statement by including the source; this way it is possible to avoid the ‘feel good’ statements.

Here are some other examples:

Students who know how best to summarise information that they read can perform much harder reading tasks, on average, than those who do not. Students also perform better when they know which strategies help them to understand and remember information, and by adopting strategies to guide their own learning. (OECD 2010)

The statement could be used in the context of promoting school library programs that focus on developing reading and literacy capabilities of students as well as the integration of information literacy programs.

Increasing literacy and numeracy skills had a positive, statistically significant effect on both labour-force participation and hourly wages. Thus, from a policy perspective, if people’s literacy and numeracy skills can be improved, then they will tend to achieve better labour market outcomes. (Shomos 2010)

This statement would support the role of the school library in the development of literacy capabilities for every student from an early age through to the final years of formal schooling. For Australian teacher librarians, the connection with the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is crucial.

The following statement comes from the 2010 Horizon Report, Australia - New Zealand edition:

The need for formal instruction in key new skills, including information literacy, visual literacy, and technological literacy, poses a continuing challenge to educational programs. (Johnson, Smith, Levine & Haywood 2010)

[An article about the 2010 Horizon Report, ‘New Media Consortium Horizon Report’, was published in Connections 74.]

This statement continues to be reported in the Horizon Report with variations. The key message is that there is a very strong need for the teaching of information and digital information literacy skills in schools. Educators and policy decision makers need to seriously consider how this can be effectively delivered to every student.

Strategy 4: source quotable quotes

The use of a quote can have a significant impact on readers. It can leave them with something substantial to think about. You can use a quote to add to your email signature, fill a space in a newsletter, post on a blog or tweet, and use as the opening statement for an article – or on a T-shirt.

On 20 December 2010, the business plan for the Australian National Broadband Network was released. Professor Paddy Nixon, of the Digital Futures Advisory Council, stated during an ABC 7.30 Report interview, ‘Digital literacy, in its broadest sense, is now as important as being able to read and write and to do your sums’. (7.30 Report 2010)

It is also appreciated when those in government positions make positive statements. For example, with the announcement of the Australian House of Representatives Inquiry into School Libraries and Teacher Librarians in Australian Schools on 18 March 2010, the committee chair, Ms Sharon Bird, MP, stated: ‘Teacher librarians make a significant contribution to the school community in a number of ways, including teaching information literacy skills and providing access to information and resources to facilitate learning.’ (Bird 2010)

Strategy 5: find remarkable stories

Stories are a magical way to support a key message. Storytelling is traditionally the way to pass on important information from generation to generation. Capturing the student voice is an absolute must. The findings of the Student Learning through Australian School Libraries project provides samples of comments by students that fit very nicely into the style of writing of ‘once I was lost ... now I am found’. (Hay 2006)

Strategy 6: massage the media

Newsworthy events and photo opportunities are all around us. For example:

  • author visits
  • special events such as Book Week
  • new lunchtime activities in the school library
  • displays of resources or student work
  • new library or different layout.

Your media might be the school newsletter or the school library wiki. Make the most of whatever communication channels are available to you.

When preparing the story ask yourself: Why do I care? Why should anybody care? This will help you to focus on the key message. Your story might provide a list of benefits, solve a problem, outline easy steps to achieve a task, or simply inspire teachers, students and parents.

If you want to get external media coverage then it is best to check with your school administration as to the correct protocol. The same newsworthy events and photo opportunities could be of interest to your local community and be a way of promoting the school and the library.

Strategy 7: leverage the network

This strategy connects well with strategy 6: massage the media.

The list of media exposure opportunities under strategy 6 helps you to link to the professional network so you are never alone. For example, you can connect with the collective wisdom of professional associations who have information available to help you with your advocacy efforts.

Also, don't be afraid to leverage the social network - Twitter, Facebook, Ning and LinkedIn. Your message needs to go viral. Identify those who share your goals and those who are willing to support your efforts, and then make the connections.

Karen Bonanno


Director, KB Enterprises (Aust) Pty Ltd


Bird, S (committee chair) 2010, Committee to examine school libraries and teacher librarians in Australian schools, media release, Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Training, Inquiry into school libraries and teacher librarians in Australian schools, Parliament House, Canberra, 18 March 2010.

Cuddihy, M 2010, Broadband business plan, ABC Television, Sydney, 20 December.

Hay, L 2006, 'Student learning through Australian school libraries' Part 2, Synergy, 2006, vol 4, no 2, pp 27-38.

Johnson, L, Smith, R, Levine, A and Haywood, K 2010, Horizon Report, Australia - New Zealand edition, New Media Consortium, p 5.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2010, 'PISA 2009 at a glance', OECD Publishing, p 72.

Shomos, A 2010, 'Links between literacy and numeracy skills and labour market outcomes', Productivity Commission Staff Working Paper, Melbourne, August, p 58.