It is complex and unpredictable to push for legislative action and influence public policies, but CSOs and informal groups can reap significant results if they understand advocacy activities. The term "advocacy" refers to efforts intended to influence public policies, laws, and other decision-making processes in different areas, through the use of evidence-based analysis, the media, networking and constructive pressure. There are various types of advocacy and each of them takes a different strategy so to bring changes in society. According to Cohen de la Vega and Watson (2001), advocacy refers to a series of actions raised to transform "what is" into a "what should be," considering that "what should be" makes society more just. All these actions take an important meaning when it comes to the context of Albania where the political, economic, and social environment is fragile. Thus, over the past eight years, LevizAlbania has contributed to increasing the involvement of civil society and informal groups at all levels to properly choose issues and advocate for change from “what is” to “what should be”. Over the course of this journey, there have been both ups and downs. This journey has, however, produced some success stories that will be elaborated on in the following sections.
- Approach of LevizAlbania
LevizAlbania is a project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, implemented by a Consortium of three Albanian organizations, Open Society Foundation for Albania, Partners Albania, and Co-Plan. LevizAlbania is dedicated to strengthening local democracy in Albania by giving civic space actors the power to be change agents who apply the necessary pressure to make sure that local governments operate in the best interests of citizens.
LevizAlbania’s journey is coming to an end after two phases, 9 Calls of Applications, 12 Strategic Grants, 23 Rapid Response projects, 362 individuals, informal groups and CSO supported, and more than 75,000 citizens involved. Through the financial support of LevizAlbania, around 40% of civic actors continue to work on projects that benefit their communities, demonstrating a sustained, long-lasting influence. LevizAlbania has amassed a significant number of engaged citizens, advocacy organizations, and CSOs that have participated in and have an impact on national and local policy. All these initiatives have encouraged a total of 212 actions and reactions from local government in response to heightened demand for better local governance. More specifically, through the different LevizAlbania instruments, citizens have been raising 669 concrete demands and proposals. LevizAlbania has posted nine calls for applications. “Call for Application 7” was more primarily focused on advocacy, besides the fact that advocacy-related applications were welcome in prior calls as well.
3. From analysis to action: the role of LevizAlbania
Civil society has a vital role to play in improving transparency and good governance by increasing public discourse, influencing the government, and holding it accountable.
For laws, policies, and initiatives to be responsive to citizens' needs and purposes, CSOs must participate and be involved in both national and local decision-making. Despite the knowledge that has been acquired over time, civil society in Albania is still underdeveloped, with CSOs in particular being project-based, donor-driven, and network-weak. Many CSOs in different cities conduct good work but in total isolation from one another. To enable their inclusion in policy-making and create more transparent, predictable, and high-quality policies and processes, networking must be strengthened, and advocacy skills and activities must be developed. CSOs outside of the capital are having difficulties, despite improvements in the civil society sector's advocacy in general. Formal structures, procedures and organizational capabilities are frequently lacking. Local advocacy capacities are still weak and need additional assistance and development. To respond to these challenges, LevizAlbania has been granting a series of support to Albanian CSOs and informal groups in the course of the last eight years. LevizAlbania support has been streamlined into two different perspectives. First, LevizAlbania has directly given grants to CSOs informal groups and individuals, so they can utilize this financial support to advocate for change on particular issues. Second, considering the low capacity of CSOs and the informal groups on how to advocate, LevizAlbania has provided an on-going accompaniment and guidance on how to advocate for change. All these advocacy efforts have produced several success stories at local and national levels. Nevertheless, despite the advocacy efforts that have so far been successful, there are numerous more that have not, at least not yet. Others could have no possibility of succeeding while some might be long shots. To better analyse the success advocacy stories, the following components are considered to be measured: (i) Shift in definition – stakeholders have a better understanding and clear picture of the issue addressed; (ii) Shift in behaviour – stakeholders and the local community in general, are more open-minded related to the addressed issue; (iii) Shift in engagement – concrete actions taken in addressing the issue; (iv) Shift in policies – proposed changes or alterations in the legal and/or policy framework; (v) Shift in practice – concrete improvements, mainly related to systemic changes.
Allies in Advocacy: A Key Ingredient for Success
One of the cases that reveal the success of advocacy on a national level but with a great impact on the local level is that of the Albanian Institute for the Development of the Election System (INSIZ). Through the support of LevizAlbania’s strategic grant instruments, INSIZ started in February 2021, its active engagement in the implementation of a civic legislative initiative to request specific amendments to the Electoral Code of the Republic of Albania. INSIZ is a foundation established in 1999. It aims to provide services that will enable Albania's social and political development, as well as its integration into international frameworks and the European family, all while adhering to international human rights and rule of law values. INSIZ and its partner organizations began tackling a persistent problem that was weakening local democracy in Albania. Specifically, at the local level, the Electoral Code provides for the election of the Mayor of the Municipality and the Municipal Council. The mayor is chosen using a majority-vote system in just one round of voting. The proportional system is used to elect members of the Municipal Council. Electoral entities, political parties, or their coalitions, compete with a closed list of candidates. The electoral code gives each voter the right to choose to vote for one of the candidates, who may also be independent. Since the system calls for using a closed list, the voter has no chance to indicate a preference for the candidate he/she would want to represent in the Municipal Council. In this way, the current method for electing municipal council members gives political parties' will and decisions a priority that is much higher than voters' will and decisions. Considering this, it is simple to draw the conclusion that representative democracy at the municipal level has problems. Different local communities are not represented in municipal councils, which are collegial decision-making entities.
INSIZ thought about the issue and developed a solution. A draft law was created by INSIZ. In this draft law, provisions are included in the Electoral Code of the Republic, which will make it possible and effective to vote for municipal councillors with open lists. According to this proposal, the division of mandates for the councillors who will win a subject among the candidates registered in its multi-name list will be done only after the reordering of the candidates on this list, based on the number of favourable votes that each candidate wins. In this way, it is possible to fully materialize the will of the voters, expressed through the preferential vote. The implementation of the citizens' legislative initiative for open list voting for members of the municipal council is a significant and direct contribution of the citizens. It will create much better conditions for the functioning of representative democracy.
Based on the right provided by the Constitution, according to which 20,000 voters have the legislative right to submit a draft law to the Albanian Parliament, INSIZ and its partners started the process for the realization of this initiative. In response to INSIZ's request, the Central Electoral Commission approved the model sheet for the collection of supporting signatures of citizens with voting right. INSIZ collected more than 20,000 voters’ signatures and this was a huge success. However, there have been innumerable advocacy efforts behind this great achievement.
“Our major goal was to design the path that must be taken in order to reach the product. This path would only be successful if citizens were involved.” Prof.Dr. Kristaq KUME, Executive Director of INSIZ.
INSIZ originally intended to gather 20,000 citizens by collecting their signatures over a three-month period. The law is clear in this regard, stating that the groups that will collect the signatures must be situated in particular positions of the municipality. The outcome fell considerably short of alliance expectations, and the alliance had only gathered 3–4% of the signatures. This method of involving the citizens was not successful.
The new approach was developed by focusing on the most important stakeholder in this project, the “CITIZEN”.
"Everything we did was founded on the premise "MEET THE CITIZEN." The major objective of meeting with the citizen individually was to inform the citizen about the initiative, ask the citizen for its opinion, share some solutions to the initiative's principal problem, and then ask the citizen for its opinion on the solution." Prof.Dr. Kristaq KUME, Executive Director of INSIZ.
However, this was insufficient. The citizens were unaware of the initiative's purpose. This led the alliance to believe that, in addition to direct interaction, an aggressive and capillary awareness effort was required. This was accomplished through a variety of methods.
First, INSIZ and its partners brought together groups of citizens who were more familiar with and knowledgeable about the issue. These were the members of the municipal council. Within one month, 14 meetings were held with municipal councils in various municipalities to describe the purpose of the initiative, how the initiative would solve this problem, and what needed to be done.
Second, INSIZ believed that young people (university students) were among the most effective category that may promote this effort. Meetings with students were held at the national level, where their commitment was required. They became participants in the initiative as well as its implementers.
Third, INSIZ engaged universities’ academic staff so to help in this initiative. Some professors from different universities in Albania, contributed for the success of this initiative.
Fourth, INSIZ took advantage of the support and opportunity provided by LevizAlbania in bringing together CSOs to form the Citizens Alliances for Democracy. As a result, INSIZ built ties with other CSOs, particularly those that represent marginalized groups (Roma and Egyptian). These new allies worked hard to collect citizen signatures for the INSIZ initiative. Finally, marginalized groups such as Roma and Egyptians were represented with approximately 10% of completed forms supporting the INSIZ initiative. At the moment, the draft law has been submitted to the Albanian Parliament for review by the Special Commission on Electoral Reform.
This project implemented from INSIZ and its partner organisations, produced changes in citizens’ behaviour, changes in actors’ engagement, changes in policies and finally systemic changes. The behaviour of citizens regarding their role in local democratic processes has significantly changed as a result of this initiative. Through the “Meet the citizen” approach that INSIZ pursued, people, unlike before, started thinking about their critical role in selecting councillors with open lists. 22,666 eligible voters took part in this initiative and indicated their support for changing the situation from a "close list" to an "open list". Besides that, this project fundamentally changed how various stakeholders were engaged in all stages of project implementation. First, eight CSOs were actively involved at the local level to influence and change citizens' behaviour toward the issue. Along with the eight partner organizations, CSOs that represent vulnerable groups showed significant interest (Roma and Egyptian). These new allies put in a lot of effort to get signatures from citizens supporting the INSIZ initiative. Finally, 10% or so of forms submitted in favour of the INSIZ initiative were from marginalized communities like Roma and Egyptians. Along with the CSOs' actively engaging, students from various universities in Albania also demonstrated a significant level of engagement. This voluntary engagement positively signalled the youth's critical role in local democratization processes. Third, experts from various Albanian universities voluntarily worked on creating particular recommendations on the raised issue and provided assistance when collecting voter signatures. Finally, current city council members were quite active in collecting signatures. The participation of all these parties was unexpected and has hardly ever occurred in projects of this nature.
This project came out with very specific legal proposals in adapting the Electoral Code. More specifically, INSIZ with the support and engagement of all the indicated stakeholders, came up with the draft law "On Amendments and Additions to the Republic of Albanian Electoral Code." This draft law's principal goal was to provide open candidate lists for local councillors. The submitted draft law is currently being reviewed and approved by the parliamentary process. Its inclusion in the Assembly's work schedule for the weeks of November 22–December 23, 2022, was agreed by the Conference of Chairmen on November 15, 2022. Its evaluation is the responsibility of the Parliamentary Commission for Electoral Reform.
One of the hugest impacts this project produces which will guarantee the sustainability of democratization processes at the local level is systemic changes. With the new proposed draft law, the changes will produce a long-lasting impact at the local level. Citizens will be able to select their preferred councillors instead of voting to the political party and this latter selects the councillors.
The success of INSIZ shows that a good strategy is not enough to achieve the goal. Instead, allies in advocacy efforts were key ingredients of success for this case.
Chapter 1 of a success story: Advocacy for legal changes for a more enabling environment for volunteering
Beyond Barriers (BBA) was founded in 2004 as a non-profit, civil society organization. BBA promotes inclusion and skills among young people at the national, regional, and European levels through non-formal education. BBA has been increasingly working on a very sensitive issue for CSOs in Albania- volunteerism. In 2016, Albania passed Law 45/2016, which regulates volunteerism. Aside from the benefits of having such legislation, its provisions have had the reverse of the desired impact. The top-down approach was used while designing the volunteering law which in turn might have unintentionally narrowed access to volunteering opportunities. Additionally, this law imposes a financial burden—at least for CSOs—on volunteer organizers to provide insurance for volunteers. The sub-legal acts provided by this Law were approved only in 2018 (Register of Volunteer Contracts and Volunteer Booklet) and 2019 (Code of Ethics). Aside from the Code of Ethics, the other two acts were not made available online on the National Resource Centre’s official website, which left CSOs—primarily Albania's non-profits in charge of organizing volunteer work—without information. Six years after Law 45's approval, a large percentage of CSOs still lack specific knowledge about whether the necessary institutions have taken coordination and implementation measures for this law. They are also unaware that the Law requires them to pay each volunteer's insurance, maintain a volunteer register, and provide each volunteer with a booklet at the National Agency for Jobs and Skills. Furthermore, six years since the law was approved there is no investment at all in the infrastructure of volunteering at the local or national level by the government structures.
This is how the Executive Director of Beyond Barriers explained the main problems this sector is facing in Albania. To address this problem, Beyond Barriers has been supported by LevizAlbania so to come up with a solution. To this end, Beyond Barriers started working on the "Vullnetarizmi.Al" project, which aimed to create a multifaceted enabling environment where volunteering is encouraged, supported, and acknowledged as a key mechanism for fostering active citizenship, solidarity, and social cohesion in Albania. Three primary pillars were the focus of this initiative.
- First, concrete recommendations to both broaden the scope of the existing law on volunteering and remove the obstacles it has put in the way of those who perform voluntary services.
- Second, national data collecting and analysis with key components that support the idea of voluntarism and the creation of intersectoral collaboration.
- Third, the development of reliable organizational frameworks with high standards for the administration of volunteer activity, as well as the introduction of a novel strategy by empowering volunteering through a digital platform that encourages open conversations and debates for all interested parties.
Ana speaks with a lot of passion about this field and emphasises that this whole journey started producing its success. The Parliamentary Committee for Work, Social Affairs, and Health held a hearing on the implementation of the law "On Volunteering" on January 21, 2022. The Policy Brief with the major recommendations and publications from the National Study on Volunteerism in Albania were cited by the speakers throughout the session. The draft amendments to Law 45/2016 “On Volunteering”, which include the specific recommendation offered by the project, are currently underway. However, according to Ana, this is only the first chapter of a long journey to come. To make this chapter a success story, Beyond Barriers and National Resource Centre for Civil Society (Partners Albania) advocated by utilizing the following strategies.
First, it was crucial to have a comprehensive study on voluntarism in Albania so as to include the wide public opinion. BBA developed the National Study on Voluntarism in Albania- a study that provides a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the perceptions, challenges, and citizens' preferences towards voluntary engagement, examining, also, the challenges and opportunities of volunteering providers in Albania, and policy-making institutions in the country. This study served as a tool for advocacy toward public institutions. The findings and recommendations of the study were discussed in a structured dialogue at the National Volunteering Conference, where all stakeholders came together to launch a discourse forum for improving the field of volunteering in Albania. Second, Beyond Barriers assesses that the voluntarism sector is a multi-faceted topic that interferes in various areas. Volunteering infrastructure is shaped through a range of various actors directly or indirectly. Civil society, the public sector, and the private sector play an important role in nurturing volunteering. So, Beyond Barriers brought into a single table all the related actors, through the development of a national conference. In this event, all the involved stakeholders could share their feedback and proposals. This served as a multi-stakeholder platform to discuss on current issues and potential solutions to voluntarism. Third, the study and the conference were not enough, according to Beyond Barriers.
“The study was a reliable tool. However, we needed to develop very specific recommendations for improving the legal framework. We could be more persuading if we were more explicit.” Mrs. Ana Mullanji, Executive Director, Beyond Barriers.
So it did. Drawing on the national study and all inputs collected during the conference, Beyond Barriers developed a policy brief with specific proposals to improve the law on voluntarism thus encouraging changes in policies.
Fourth, the organization started a series of meetings with technical people in the relevant institutions.
“The study, the law analyses, the social and legal comparative analyses with European countries document and the document with recommendations were powerful tools we had for advocacy. However, we were basically holding both of them in our hands, unable to adequately communicate all the problems and suggestions to the pertinent organizations, namely the Ministry of Finance and Economy, the Minister of State for Youth and Children, and the National Employment and Skills Agency.” Mrs. Ana Mullanji, Executive Director, Beyond Barriers.
It is evident that BBA has taken concrete steps in providing concrete improvements related to systemic changes. Only changes in the system will produce sustainable results.
Fifth, a national awareness campaign was necessary to better inform the wide public on the value of voluntarism and the current issues. Hence, Beyond Barriers and Partners Albania undertook a wide public campaign by using media as a tool to share and “pressure” different stakeholders to take the right decisions. As a result of their increased knowledge about Albania's volunteerism, citizens' behaviours have changed, especially in terms of problems and values behind voluntarism in Albania.
In parallel, close collaboration took place with media and journalists to emphasize the issues on volunteering and support the cause and discussion through their channels of communication in order to influence a change in perceptions and approaches of key stakeholders in the long term. Finally, BBA created the first national digital platform www.vullnetarizmi.al, as an interactive tool for all interested actors of the sector. The platform served as a twofold approach; (i) through the use of digital technology, the platform brings not only a facilitating and organized means of recruiting volunteers (match-making), allowing the participation of interested citizens but also an innovation in the collection of statistics and qualitative and quantitative information in this field, (ii) raising the direct capacities of volunteering providers through their training and mentoring in the use of the Volunteer Management Standards Protocol, and the use of the platform.
This project has produced several changes, starting with change into the definition of volunteering. The current legislation (Law No. 45/216) considers sporadic or short-term volunteering in the same manner as long-term structured volunteering. This places a significant administrative burden on organizations that conduct short-term volunteering. For example, if a CSOs wants to arrange a one-day cleaning event and so it needs lots of volunteers to commit to it, this is a form of short-term volunteering. In this way, a single day of this kind of volunteering cannot be viewed in the same light as several months of volunteering. In such a situation, the volunteering providers are under enormous pressure to communicate with, recruit, orient, train, and contract with a big number of volunteers, which may be beyond the capacity of CSOs and demotivate volunteering providers to carry out such activities. Said that, Beyond Barriers has specifically proposed a change into this definition, by splitting and treating differently these two types of voluntarism.
The advocacy strategy pursued by BBA so to base its proposals on evidence-based analysis, produced a shift in the engagement of key actors in the area of volunteering. This was the first time that an organization of civil society encouraged different stakeholders to engage on a single platform, on this very sensitive and important topic for Albanian CSOs.
Beyond Barriers have proposed a series of policy changes which starts with legal changes of the Law No. 54/2016. For example, Beyond Barriers proposed a clarification of Article 9 of this law. According to Article 9 of this law, organizations that provide volunteer services should either be CSOs or businesses (judiciary persons). The biggest issue with this notion is that it could lead to confusion regarding how enterprises and non-profit organizations should be treated financially. It is crucial to first define business voluntarism because it is obvious that businesses cannot be considered the same as civil society organizations. In addition, BBA proposes very specific changes for the articles 16 and 22 of this law.
This case shows that there is no “silver bullet” to solve such issues. Besides the fact that BBA followed carefully all steps of a successful advocacy strategy, still it took a long time to turn this issue a point of decision-makers agendas. This case gives us a huge lesson. that persistence, networking and alliances, and a wide coverage and engagement of actors, helped to path the way towards redirecting the focus and attention of policy makers towards the importance of the Law no.45/2016 and the much-needed revision to it. Currently work has started on the draft changes to this law, incorporating the concrete recommendations provided by the Project.
The advocacy triangle “community value, legitimacy and support and organisational capacity”.
Albanian coastal locations are the noisiest, especially during the tourist season. They lack local action plans for noise pollution, which is not continuously monitored, and do not apply controls to noise-generating activities. Seaside locations around Vlora and Himara are popular areas during the tourism season. According to the most recent Environment State of the Art Report for 2020, among the 43 stations for measuring noise levels throughout Albania, there are only four in the city of Vlora and none for Himara. Furthermore, it is clear from this report that the threshold was exceeded at all locations during the day. The greatest level was measured at the "Uji i Ftohte" station, where the monitored value was 13.7% higher than the limit (55dB), while the lowest level was measured throughout the day at the "Hyrja e Qytetit" station, where we surpassed the norm by 1.7%. The Council of Ministers issued decision No. 587 on noise monitoring and control on July 7, 2010. Additionally, law No.9774, dated 12.07.2007 “On the assessment of noise pollution” puts the development of action plans under the responsibility of municipalities. However, there are still issues relating to the lack of local noise action plans, the lack of continuous monitoring of noise levels, and the lack of restrictions on noise-generating activities.
Noise pollution is a growing problem in these areas, and the communities in these areas are unaware of the role the local government plays in noise administration and reduction. Meanwhile, civil society organizations in these areas lack the expertise to analyse noise levels, and there is a lack of collaboration with communities to address and advocate for issues to local governments. Municipalities' lack of a defined action plan/mapping/noise level measures has created a void in the supply of information for communities and local organizations. Hence, Milieukontakt Albania, with the support of LevizAlbania decided to work in this direction and find the most appropriate solution. Milieukontakt Albania has 22 years of experience working with civil society on environment, nature, and sustainable development as well as with authorities dealing with these issues in Albania. The organization worked in three directions: (i) identifying the current situation through a thorough analysis conducted pursuing a credible methodology (ii) encouraging citizen participation in noise monitoring through alternative monitoring methods, and (iii) strengthening cooperation through actors in advocacy and addressing issues to the local government. The main purpose was for these municipalities to draft the actions plans and help preparing monitoring methodologies of noise pollution.
“We tried to bring together the main stakeholders related to the topic and establish the “triangle” which could work on the issue and monitor it for long-lasting periods. This triangle was established by bringing together citizens, civil society, businesses, and the local government. We thought that the stronger the triangle, the more effective the solution could be”. Arion Sauku, Project Manager.
After so much effort, the organization succeeds in the Himara municipality. The mayor of this municipality welcomed and invited the organization to support them in drafting the action plans and supporting public hearings at the community level. As a note, preparing these action plans is a legal obligation of the municipality. However, they do lack the capacities, infrastructure, and sometimes the will to do that. Once action plans are put in place, they require close monitoring of their implementations.
In achieving this success, the organization advocated by utilizing the following strategy.
First, it was critical to develop professional research so as to indicate all the problems these areas do have in terms of noise pollution. This research in order to be a credible tool was developed by using the latest methodologies. To adequately measure the level of noise in these areas, the organization used the Laeq parameter, which is widely used by the EU members, in full compliance with Directive 2002/49/EC. The organization provided technology that displays the noise level in real-time so that the noise level could be accurately measured.
Following the aforementioned phase, the organization made an effort to involve as many local government technicians, citizens, and other relevant actors as possible throughout the measurement and monitoring phase of noise in these locations. However, the organization discovered that only a small number of people were knowledgeable about these technical measurements during this procedure.
"Stakeholders would not be completely engaged in the process without the necessary technical understanding." Arion Sauku, Project Manager.
The organization consequently made the decision to create certain training sessions in collaboration with the Environmental and Territorial Management Institute. This was a crucial advocacy tool. Under the created triangle, CSOs, citizens, members of municipalities, and businesses joined this training. One of the most significant effects of these training sections was an increase in the capacity of municipal staff who would be part of the team to draft action plans and continue monitoring noise levels for their municipality. As a result, enhancing the capacity of municipal staff was important to addressing professional communication gaps.
Following the development of the aforementioned actions, the final stage aimed at advocating with municipalities in order to compel them to write noise pollution action plans. To do this, the group organized a series of meetings with municipal representatives and technical personnel who participated in the training sessions. Engaging the triangle to push for further development was a vital approach.
As a result, the Himara municipality invited the organization to present the research and the suggestion for the action plan. According to municipal regulations, a hearing with the council members is required before they may vote on whether or not to approve this plan. The agenda could not move forward without their agreement. This step was successfully completed by the organization, and they are now working closely with the Himara municipality to prepare this action plan. This massive accomplishment necessitates numerous efforts, including involvement, communication, and locating the proper people to join the triangle.
This initiative changed both the behaviour and engagement of various stakeholders at the local level. In terms of behaviour changes, this effort improved stakeholders' understanding of the detrimental effects that noise pollution has on society. Before, some local actors considered this to be a peripheral concern. However, with the training for increasing capacities of local actors and all the wide public advocacy that the organization developed, the perception of citizens changed. They are now more informed and ready to actively engage on the issue. In terms of engagement change, this project profoundly changed how diverse stakeholders were involved in all phases of project execution. This project, brought together citizens, CSOs, businesses, and local government representatives to collaborate on the problem of noise pollution and to set up monitoring measures for the future. The engagement of these actors produced specific recommendations and concrete actions for two of the selected municipalities.
This case shows that advocacy and partnering go hand in hand. The most important stage is converting an advocacy message into alliances and partnerships with local authorities and citizens.
4. Key takeaways and conclusion
LevizAlbania granting mechanism has been beneficial in many ways and has laid the groundwork for further forthcoming positive outcomes. Through its grantees, LevizAlbania has changed the way citizens think about and perceive their involvement in the democratization processes and how to effectively advocate for policy changes.
LevizAlbania has ensured widespread civic participation in grantee interventions. LevizAlbania had assisted a total of 362 people, informal groups, and CSOs at the end of the third year of its second phase implementation, forming a critical mass of active civic actors that participate in and influence local government action. Through its monitoring and evaluation system, the project has gathered evidence that civic actors' initiatives supported by LevizAlbania, led to 212 local government actions and reactions in response to a stronger demand for better local governance. As a result, 669 specific demands and proposals have been raised by citizens themselves and mobilized through LevizAlbania. Civic actors supported by LevizAlbania have submitted at least 85 requests and petitions to Local Councils signed by over 6,000 citizens. LevizAlbania systematically traces the sustainability of activism and of initiatives, after the end of support. Based on the two measurements conducted so far, about 40% of supported civic actors awarded continue to be active in their local communities after 12 months of support concluded, providing evidence of sustainable impact.
LevizAlbania has encouraged CSOs to become resilient. The uncertainty regarding potential new closures and restrictive measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, “learnt” civil society actors to explore innovative advocacy tactics and methods. They used electronic petitions, use of media as an advocacy tool, social media, etc. to impact the local government's actions.
Despite all the positive developments that the advocacy efforts of grantees produced, still, LevizAlbania and grantees have been facing numerous challenges. First, advocacy is a new underexplored strategy from the CSOs and informal groups in Albania. Said that LevizAlbania has been facing difficulties in instilling effective advocacy mechanisms among the CSOs. This is in part due to CSOs' limited capacity to develop advocacy strategies. Second, the political environment in which the CSOs are operating is quite unresponsive to advocacy efforts. Thus, persistence and double efforts have been necessary to “push” for policy changes. Third, there is a low level of citizen engagement, even in sensitive public issues which widely impact the whole society. The lack of trust in public institutions makes this an even larger challenge. Hence, engaging citizens so to make them part of the change, has been quite challenging.
The entire advocacy process, particularly the challenges encountered along the way, yielded the following valuable lessons:
- Collaboration is the key to successful advocacy. In order to improve the impact, visibility, and reach of advocacy action, it is important to develop partnerships and collaborations with other organizations, including CSOs, government agencies and ministries, private companies, and international development agencies.
- CSOs could consider using multiple forms of media and novel outreach efforts to spread the advocacy message. As part of their advocacy action, it is critical for the CSOs to build appropriate communication strategies that incorporate various forms of media such as social media, print, TV, and radio.
- CSOs should include capacity building and training in their advocacy efforts. In order to support desired changes in behaviour or practice, stakeholders need to be educated about best practices and resources available.
- Creating a strong, diverse, and active partnering network will multiply the advocacy impact. This will help CSOs to invite allies to the table to support the arguments they make to influence policymaking.
- Evaluate the advocacy efforts. Review prior advocacy strategies and efforts, make necessary revisions, implement a new advocacy process, or decide on other actions to be performed if anticipated policy changes don't materialize. Create strategies for maintaining or enhancing the intended transformation.
This long experience of LevizAlbania in supporting advocacy efforts demonstrated that there is no single formula for making advocacy successful. Instead, persistence, flexibility, alliances, and evidence-based documents, help the process of advocacy to become successful.
Author: Brunilda Kosta The 8 partners of INSIZ in the implementation of this project (names in English) are: 1) Tamara Centre, 2) Multimedia Centre ‘Shteg’, 3) Free Thought Forum (Tirana); 4) Centre for Youth Progress (Kukës); 5) Association "Civic Voice" (Lushnja, Fier and Vlora); 6) Association "Easy steps" (Shkodra); 7) Association "Montenegrin Community in Albania" (Elbasan), 8) Civil Society Development Centre (Durrës and Kavaja).