Ask Muriel: Starting a policy and advocacy career

2 November 2021

Keanneelyse on Instagram asked:

“Where do you start if you want to change your career into policy/advocacy?”

Thanks for your question!

Advocacy and non-government policy work can be truly rewarding. It gives you the opportunity to blend skills in writing, researching and critical thinking alongside your values. The work is constantly evolving and responding to different political or social contexts and can make a real difference either to your organisation, public discussion or the broader community.

There’s no one academic path to building a career in advocacy, and you will find that job descriptions may ask for a suite of qualifications across areas as broad as economics, politics, communications as well as social and public policy.

Having an intrinsic interest in a given issue contributes both to your latent knowledge base and ability to fluidly scope the existing and potential policy settings. So, the first conversation to have with yourself is to list those issues that you are truly passionate about; these might be climate change, human rights, women’s safety or economic justice as an example.

Working to affect change will likely mean that government will be a major stakeholder, so an understanding of the political landscape and how government systems and processes like estimates and budget cycles work will also be an enormous benefit to you when looking to change your career.

Be prepared to talk to and listen to those who already work in non-profit advocacy, because if you currently work in a government policy role the transition in motivation, initiative and skills can be steep.

Many people wind up in advocacy after working or volunteering in political campaigns and fundraising and, as a result, will often have strong political networks, nous and campaign experience. What really makes advocacy different than just having a broad interest in an issue and being able to work across government, is being able to convert complicated policy into effective community messaging and to conceive of big picture campaign opportunities and identify political or community leverage points to get traction.

These skills are ones that you can acquire through participating in or leading effective community campaigns. If you’re at university, it can be an idea to get involved in campus campaigns or student societies that advocate on behalf of the student body. If you’re still at school, think about ways you can get involved in school policies that affect students, such as uniform policies or sporting policies that restrict the participation of girls or gender-diverse peers.

Clear and consistent messaging is critical but so is knowing when your campaign is effective, needs reflection or needs to capitalise on external momentum. It’s also important to have an ear to the ground in terms of what’s happening in the political landscape and be prepared to draw on political contacts, evidence or media to prosecute your position.

So, if you’re someone who enjoys campaigning, listening to talk-back radio, reading opinion-pieces, following political trends, can work across political ideology and has a values-based drive, visit websites like Probono Australia to find your next career, and good luck!

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