In the period from April 27 to June 24, we organized five webinars and held a total of 10 sessions within the online training on the project Active Citizens - Better Society: Advocating for Cooperation and Democratic Development in Serbia.

We started our active online learning with a story about activism. What levels of activism exist, how does it manifest itself, does activism represent an action that implies change only in theory or in practice? These are just some of the questions we tried to answer together with our coaches.

The narrower meaning of activism implies activists who are active within some initiatives. The broader meaning of activism is when an individual goes to the elections as an active participant in political life, our participants said about activism.

We also discussed the public debate as an opportunity for active participation in public life, as well as the political culture of citizens - is there a possibility that citizens are not sufficiently aware of the possibilities, how and where to activate in the debate on political ideas? In the normative-legal sense, public debate exists, and why and in what way they are organized, who attends them and how they are conducted is another question. In this regard, one of the most important tasks of advocacy in Serbia is to put a certain topic on the political agenda. The focus of political actors and the place of the ideas of advocacy initiatives on the political agenda will depend on several factors, but the importance of the topic it deals with is certainly one of them.

When we talk about advocacy, it is important to emphasize that advocacy seeks to solve certain problems in society in a systematic way - through decision-making. In a broader sense, advocacy is an initiative to change the way some things go, ie. to change the policy around a certain problem, in order to promote the common good, protect the rights of vulnerable members of the community and the development of a democratic society and culture. On the other hand, the result of advocacy should not and does not have to be only new policies.

Advocacy changes political culture, builds democracy and contributes to the progress of society as a whole.

What is key to successful advocacy is also determining the moment for realization. The right moment gives the result even if the advocacy action is less well thought out. Also, choosing an advocacy strategy is something that needs special attention. There are various public advocacy strategies (building a support base, cooperation strategy, information strategy, persuasion strategy, pilot model strategy, litigation strategy and confrontation strategy) and it is necessary to choose the one that best suits the particular initiative that has been launched.

When we talked about different approaches to public advocacy, we divided them into three groups: advocacy for citizens, advocacy with citizens, and advocacy by citizens. While our program and project partners work for and with citizens, the Active Citizens-Better Society project team works advocacy by citizens.

The question of what political will is and what it all depends on has prompted our partners to discuss whether it is just the government's desire to pursue a certain policy or whether it also depends on other factors such as the capacities and resources available to the state apparatus, reactions and attitudes of the actors to whom the policy applies, etc.

Political will is the readiness of political partners to hear and respect the needs of citizens, and not just to pursue certain policies.

The next topic we discussed was the role of the media in putting a particular topic on the political agenda. One of the principles that the media uses to determine relevant content is news worthiness, that is, deciding which topic is more important at a given time. The key role of the media in setting the agenda is unquestionable, but it is necessary that there is an audience for it.

Our biggest mistake in advocating is addressing all citizens, because then we are not actually addressing anyone. There is a wide range of actors we can address and here we come to the concept of a social barometer that reminds us that society is made up of a large number of different actors who have different views on our topic. For the advocacy initiative to be successful, we need to see who we are addressing and how we will position ourselves in relation to: leading activists, active allies, passive allies, neutral, passive opponents, active opponents and leading opponents. Our participants had the task to start from the mapping of interested parties, which are the most influential and most powerful players on the scene in certain categories (public sector, private sector, civil sector and media) in relation to their initiative.

Before conceptualizing the good message of our advocacy initiatives, it is important to make distinctions between the message and the slogan, as well as between framing a particular topic and spinning.

A message can work without a slogan, but a slogan cannot work without a clearly defined message.

On the other hand, by framing a certain topic, we want to provide a more complete insight into the topic/ problem we are dealing with, and by spinning that topic, we are abusing and distorting information. The framing itself depends on who we are, that is, what we do and how the public perceives a certain topic - what are their hopes, expectations or fears?

How the public positions itself in relation to the existing frameworks - there are extremes on both sides that never deviate from their views. If there are constantly two extreme attitudes on one topic, after a certain time there is a certain kind of stabilization of the support of the stated extreme attitudes. Then, somewhere around 5% of people interested in the topic will take one or the other extreme position.

In the past three months, we have discussed these and other topics in order to work with our partners to develop their advocacy initiatives. Through a series of online trainings aimed primarily at providing new knowledge and skills in the field of public advocacy and communication skills, we have further strengthened our partners in the direction of conducting campaign activities and actively advocating for change in their communities.

You can follow our and our partners' activities in the coming period HERE.