One of the weaknesses of advocacy activities performed by non-profit organizations is their lack of a basis of knowledge at both the micro and macro levels. This results in advocacy that is not maximal due to imprecise strategy, targets, and coverage. Advocacy is an important activity that provides a bargaining position for the public in the process of improving government policy. Therefore, advocacy requires rational consideration based on data in order to be able to offer alternative solutions for mutual agreements between parties, the government, and the public.
In an effort to increase the research skills of activists and strengthen the quality of their advocacy efforts, the participants of the second School for Diversity Management (Sekolah Pengelolaan Keragaman, SPK) were invited to the Institute for Research and Empowerment (IRE), a non-partisan, nonprofit independent organization based in the academic community. Located in Sariharjo village in Yogyakarta, the IRE conducts research on the evaluation and analysis of government policy, especially in regions where support for critical attitudes and tactical actions are needed to strengthen the democratic process.
IRE Senior Researcher Arie Sujito explained that advocacy based in research is a form of advocacy that utilizes the main results of empirical research for data and analysis. Research results are used to convince parties aiming to influence strategic policy, especially the public and formal authorities. These measures are applied through two different avenues. First, they are applied through “political technocracy” that evaluates the evolution of the state’s response to transparent, committed, accountable, professional and innovative work, and secondly, through the organization and empowerment of a critical and active public.
The advantage of using research-based advocacy is that data and discoveries provide strong material for the process of negotiating government policy. In addition, research results can help to more completely map problems, identify and prioritize issues, and seek alternative solutions while negotiating change. They also support a number of different strategies for action.
Research-based advocacy expands the agenda of policy makers in exploring particular issues. What is needed is a sense of a problem’s context, including issues, interests, alternative choices and solutions formulated as strategies for advocacy. Sujito provided an example of a number of projects where IRE used research-based advocacy, including pluralism advocacy in regards to local applications of syariah law in three provinces in the regions of West Nusa Tenggara, South Sulawesi, and South Kalimantan.
Sujito emphasized that the key to research for advocacy is managing the results so they can be used as strategic proposals for problem solving, not just in efforts to cause new problems. Therefore, he recommends three basic steps should be heeded: the presentation of priority subject matter, allowing the findings and recommendations to received and debated, as well as the hope that the research results will contribute to a unanimous position and balanced interests.
Research can become a basis for advocacy depending on how researchers and activists manage the process. According to Sujito, public protests over government policy can be channeled through constructive interests. Data gathered in the field can become educational material, raise awareness, and serve as a legitimation for approaching the community.
Sujito added that data does not just produce inanimate objects like reports or educational materials, but can also become a tool for motivating the public through media outlets like journals, articles, talk shows and the like. The duplication of data must be closely watched not only at the level of the public, but all the way to the level of policy makers in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
The most pressing problem for Sujito is the difficulty of finding space for discussion in social, political, and economic debate. The majority of the space created by the media for discussion is, in his opinion, a “space of gossip” because the greater public does not catch the essence the discourse. Moral critiques have become dominant instead. A healthy space for discourse is one that helps to overcome sectarianism. Sectarianism emerges in part as a result of the failure of the public to define identities, and because the state is not capable of facilitating different identities in interaction.