Public Policy Advocacy: What Is It?

  • February 9, 2018

The term advocacy is used widely and generally means to raise support for a particular cause or issue. But what is advocacy when it comes to public policy? There are a variety of ways to advocate including self-advocacy, advocacy on behalf of someone or a group, and lobbying. Advocacy is an essential part of making any kind of change, whether it be for an individual, group, or system, and it is often used to help amplify the voices of people who are not being heard. Understanding what type of advocacy to use can be helpful when determining how to advocate for a specific legislative cause.


Self-advocacy is widely discussed in the disability rights movement. The aim of self-advocacy is to promote change by people who are directly impacted by social issues to using their voices to raise awareness and take action. Being a self-advocate empowers the individual to make their own choices and gain more control over their lives. Self-advocates are highly effective because they can draw from personal experience as well as provide a voice for others who are experiencing similar barriers. When using advocacy to shape public policy, self-advocates personal experiences offer a unique perspective that many other types of advocacy do not. They can speak directly to how policy changes would impact their lives.

Education as Advocacy

Education is a tool used to to raise awareness about how legislation and public policy issues impact people. Education often provides information to people who are unaware of the issue at hand and can help gain their support. Using education to talk to legislators about a particular issue is not persuasive but instead is informative. An example of education is meeting with legislators to talk about how a bill might impact a community, without directly asking for the legislators to take a position. By providing facts, statistics, and personal stories, a person or organization can better prepare the legislator to make an informed decision about a particular public policy or issue. Education helps raise awareness about legislation or public issues while still allowing an individual to form his or her own opinion on the matter.

What is Lobbying?

The purpose of lobbying is to communicate with and influence a politician or other public official to take a stance on a particular bill. There are two types of lobbying that nonprofits and other businesses use. Direct lobbying uses straightforward, intentional communication with a government official who can influence public policy. When lobbying directly, the advocate is expressing a specific viewpoint and asking the legislator to take that side. Grassroots lobbying is aimed at constituents with the intention of influencing lawmakers and encouraging the public to vote a certain way if it is a public issue. However, there are some limitations to how nonprofits can participate in lobbying efforts to ensure that they are operating ethically within their tax exempt status. These protections are in place to prevent people from influencing a certain issue for personal or political gain but do not extend to other advocacy efforts.

Advocacy Impact

Each of these forms of advocacy have the goal of raising support for specific issues or policies. Likewise, each type of advocacy plays a vital role in the landscape of impacting public policy decisions. It is through communities employing all types of advocacy that impact is made.

Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) is a nonprofit legal services organization that provides free legal advocacy services to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities.

Middle Tennessee (Admin Office)

2 International Plaza, Suite 825
Nashville, TN 37217

Phone: 615-298-1080
Fax: 615-298-2046

East Tennessee

9050 Executive Park Drive, Suite 101-B
Knoxville, TN 37923

Phone: 865-670-2944
Fax: 865-470-7028

West Tennessee

1407 Union Avenue, Suite 1015
Memphis, TN 38104

Phone: 901-458-6013
Fax: 901-249-2933