Report on the Advocacy Initiativeâ€™s Inaugural Knowledge Exchange Forum
13th February 2012
Wood Quay Venue, Dublin City Council
The purpose of the Knowledge Exchange Forum is to provide a space to support development and learning within the Community and Voluntary sector in the context of its social justice advocacy activity.
In developing its three-year work plan, the Advocacy Initiative has emphasised the importance of making a contribution to strengthening capacity of social justice advocates. Acknowledging a shorter-term imperative to strengthen learning and practice, the Initiative undertook to develop the Knowledge Exchange Forum, which should act as a source of learning and support. The Forum will meet three times annually. The objective of the inaugural meeting was to begin to share experiences of advocacy in the current climate, whilst reflecting upon future possibilities and how the Forum should be used. Both sessions, morning and afternoon, involved an opening lecture followed by a facilitated open discussion between participants. President Higgins launched the event with his opening address, followed by a reflective discussion on this speech, the impact of recent developments on advocacy, and the future of advocacy in Ireland. The second session involved a lecture by Dr HelĂŠne Clark, Founder and Director of ActKowledge, with a subsequent discussion on reflective practice and how the Forum should be used. A broad range of stakeholders and representatives from various community and voluntary organisations throughout Ireland was present, from those primarily engaged in social justice advocacy to those more focused on primary services. The participant list included representatives from diverse organisations, including those advocating on issues of health, development, racism, and social policy.
Executive Summary A brief overview of the proposals from the first Knowledge Exchange Forum may be divided into two broad categories; the first outlining the challenges faced by the community and voluntary sector in the practice of advocacy and the second summarising the possibilities and expectations for the Forum and advocacy more generally. The most salient difficulty in the practice of advocacy was understandably the impact of the current economic crisis. With each section of society now fighting against losses, social justice advocacy has been pushed to the margins. Harmful competitive practices have emerged in the community and voluntary sector in the face of diminished resources, both in terms of the unwillingness to share information and successful strategies, and the pressure to criticise other social justice advocates in the process of justifying one’s own cause. The virtual collapse of the sector has led to the misplaced practice of focussing on preserving insignificant gains whilst losing sight of the structural nature of many of the problems. Another practice that may ultimately be harmful is the tendency to avoid confrontations with the state for fear of funding being withdrawn. In the face of rapid developments in social media and new movements, another challenge identified for social justice advocates was the ability to stay relevant. While a critical evaluation of the tactics of these new social movements was felt to be necessary, the potential role of these limited, targeted campaigns in re-energising a sector facing the reality of burnout on a day-to-day basis was highlighted. In addition, given the collapse in trust and the corruption of ‘knowledge’ in light of its strategic use, the reintroduction of a social, interactive approach to advocacy was deemed necessary. Related to this need to reinvigorate the discourse of social justice advocacy is the challenge of casting off the impersonal, bureaucratic language of ‘clients’ and ‘service users’ currently prevalent in the practice of advocacy, and returning to the rights agenda and the language of inclusive citizenship. The final difficulty highlighted was coming to terms with a range of new ‘decision shapers’ such as the Troika, and the setbacks in terms of transparency and accountability. It is more difficult to agree on solutions than to define the problems, and understandably the pathways to the renewal of social justice advocacy in light of the above challenges were far from clear. However there was broad consensus on the need to regroup and form new alliances, possibly exploring more fluid, issue based structures. The Knowledge Exchange Forum was envisaged as a space in which to foster solidarity, shared understandings and cooperative endeavours. The discussion on reflective practice highlighted the limited capacity of the sector to engage in this kind of strategic thinking and analysis, and it was felt that the Forum was a suitable space to support progress in this crucial area. Acknowledging the impossibility of advocating without understanding, periodic presentations were suggested as a remedy for specific deficits in understanding on the part of participants. There was some suggestion that by inviting a diverse range of stakeholders to participate in the Forum, new messages and strategies might be constructed. On the other hand, a cautious approach was advised to the wholesale adoption to new strategies lest the fundamental message about social justice be lost in the pursuit of minor victories. Finally, the Knowledge Exchange Forum was anticipated as providing an opportunity to review and renew the structure of social justice advocacy in Ireland, and for strengthening the case for advocacy as a vital counterpart to the provision of primary services. 3
Opening Session The meeting was opened by Kieran Murphy, Chairperson of the Advocacy Initiative, who briefly introduced the Advocacy Initiative and welcomed President Higgins to the Knowledge Exchange Forum. Kieran referred to the President’s discussion of active and inclusive citizenship in his inaugural presidential address, and how these concepts are also central to the project of the Advocacy Initiative and the renewal of advocacy more generally, before inviting President Higgins to speak.
President’s Address President Higgins began by noting the importance of sharing knowledge generally among as wide and diverse a range of people as possible. While he saw this as being essential to discovering commonalities and sharing strategies, President Higgins also highlighted this event as an opportunity to reveal and discuss the underlying assumptions and values of advocacy discourse in a manner informed by critical theory. As regards the former goal, the Forum may help to dispel worries about a ‘tragedy of the commons’ type consequence of strategy-sharing. On the matter of language, President Higgins hoped the forum would rectify the intermeshing of the language of the state and the language of the community and voluntary sector.
“I keep searching for the word citizen, which I use quite a bit, and which I used in my inaugural address, and I find that it’s quite drowned by references to service-users, and clients, and client-bases”.
President Higgins also spoke about this being a time for reviewing and recasting the structure of advocacy, whilst being aware that the change in consciousness required may be different at each stage and from each perspective of the decision process. Integral to a renewed structure, according to President Higgins, is the re-examination of the relationship between the state and the voluntary sector, and the emphasis on transparency and accountability in both. President Higgins drew particular attention to the issues in the administration of policy, and the importance of persevering with advocacy through to the implementation of policy. Also highlighted was the presence of ‘decision-shapers’ in the policymaking process, actors behind the scenes who have a crucial impact on those who ultimately make decisions. “Much of the formal pressure on the state, and correctly so through the freedom of information legislation and other things, is in fact to try and make the state transparent and accountable. But equally, as you move away from the regulation of the state, it’s important that NGOs and people in the voluntary sector be transparent as well, and be accountable and in fact implement and deliver the standards for themselves and those who work with them, that they are looking for from the state”.
In his discussion of the human relationships that make up the community and voluntary sector, President Higgins made reference to the increasing incidence of excessive burdens 4
and ‘burnout’ with those involved. He saw the need for increased awareness of the limited energy available, seeing the Knowledge Exchange Forum as an opportunity to combine efforts and care for the human side of the sector. Referencing the apparent loss of confidence in the state, President Higgins also spoke about the need to build a better relationship between the state, civil society and the community. “The fact is that all of your organisations as I looked at them have to deal with both the state and the civil society and community. And there is where there is a richness of experience across the organisations that are different, because they have been dealing with different ranges of problems” Returning to the concept of citizenship and its philosophical connotations, President Higgins argued that advocacy informed by and embracing ‘citizenship’ requires a new language ‘of the heart, not just the head’. Central to his belief is the idea of active citizenship, and President Higgins felt that it is especially pertinent to advocacy today, and to reshaping the way in which the state relates to the voluntary sector. Rather than continuing with policies that forward ‘a residual notion of citizenship’ in which everyone is allowed to ‘sink’ under cutbacks until growth returns, President Higgins advocated a renewal of debates surrounding equality in social policy in fora like the Knowledge Exchange and the upcoming presidential seminars.1
Anna Visser, Director of the Advocacy Initiative, responded to the President’s opening address by giving an outline of the role of the Knowledge Exchange Forum and linking this into some of the main themes of the speech. Anna emphasised the importance of reflection, support and learning within the community and voluntary sector. However the importance of the public face of the Knowledge Exchange Forum was also emphasised, reiterating the President’s words on how advocacy can contribute to developing a more inclusive citizenship, and complement service provision.
A text version of President Higgins speech is available at http://www.president.ie/index.php?section=5&speech=1062&lang=eng, while a video is available on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uW10dXoTek
Discussion – What is the current state of social justice advocacy? Following the President’s departure, Kieran Murphy facilitated a discussion on three key questions: 1. What are the implications of the President’s address? 2. What are the key recent developments for your advocacy work? 3. What do we want from the Knowledge Exchange Forum?
What are the implications of the President’s address? Much of the reaction to President Higgins’ speech centred on his discussion on citizenship, and the need for a critical approach to the language of advocacy. There was widespread awareness that community and voluntary groups have in many cases adopted the language of the state and business sector. There was general agreement that the Knowledge Exchange Forum should be used as a space for unearthing assumptions and for dialogue on what is meant by certain key terms, starting with what is meant by advocacy itself and moving towards the transformation of exploitative and impersonal language. One contributor referred to the past phenomenon of the state usurping the language of the community and voluntary sector, asking the forum to reflect on when this trend began to reverse and advocates started to internalise the language of the state.
“President Higgins has highlighted the need to turn the language of advocacy around, and return to evocative, emotional language”
On the subject of citizenship, there was unequivocal consensus on the need to return to the citizenship agenda and challenge the status quo with regard to the language of rights and responsibilities. In particular there is a need to move beyond a conception of rights that individuals can avail of or fight for, and towards the idea of citizens with rights that the state must defend. There was reference to the need to expand the idea of citizenship, possibly via Article 40 of the Constitution and the many unenumerated rights contained in it. While the widespread assent commanded by the Constitution in political and bureaucratic circles may help to boost such a project, the unlikelihood of economic and social rights being included at the proposed constitutional convention was cited as a negative factor. One contributor argued that with the professionalization of advocacy, the emotive language of values and citizenship has been lost, and reiterated the call for action from President Higgins for a return to the language of the heart. A cautious and critical approach to this was advised however, with due regard for the increasingly globalised and multicultural face of society, as it is imperative that the reclaimed notion of citizenship is expanded in such a way as to be non-exclusionary. In addition, a reflection on who the rights holders are was advised, lest they be forgotten in the process of renewal.
“If we are to seriously adopt a rights-based approach it is important to ask who are the rights-holders and how can we develop solidarity with those on the margins of society?” 6
Much of the remainder of the reaction to the President’s opening address focused on the need to reflect on strategies and reform the relationship between civil society and the state. There was much agreement on the difficulty mentioned by President Higgins of ‘gains in legislation being lost in administration’, particularly within the community and voluntary sector. Future strategies would therefore need to focus on following through with the policy process to achieve the intended result. The other factor cited by President Higgins as detrimental to the achievement of social justice concerns is the practice, often seen in statefunded agencies, of avoiding confrontational approaches for fear of having funding withdrawn. The discussion then moved on to how the relationship between the state (and increasingly, quasi-state agencies) and community and voluntary groups might be reformed, bringing more transparency and accountability to the practices of advocacy and funding. In the discussion on strategy, attention was drawn to the role of ‘decision shapers’ a well as decision makers, and the need to focus advocacy efforts on all parties in the policy process whilst sharing knowledge and strategies with other groups. Finally, the increasing incidence of ‘burnout’ was discussed, as well as the need to factor this limited energy into future strategies.
What are the key recent developments for your advocacy work? The discussion on the second question focused on recent developments and the subsequent challenge that advocacy groups face in staying relevant. In particular, several participants reflected on the changes in strategy since 2008 as well as the need to adapt further in light of particular changes. With the progress of the last ten years being whittled away and every section of society attempting to cling on to the gains of the Celtic Tiger, social justice advocates representing those who were always on the margins are overlooked. This has, in many cases, resulted in an increasing focus on individual gains and losses within the community and voluntary sector, on holding on to ‘the tiny piece of the pie’ whilst losing sight of the bigger picture. Participants also referred to the new difficulties faced in doing advocacy, citing the trend of silencing dissenting voices who are willing to give strong critiques of government interventions. Those who are funded by the state are constantly in fear of having their funding withdrawn, and as a result are pitted against other advocacy groups in legitimising their campaigns (on the other hand, it was pointed out, those organisations that have survived the withdrawal of state funding no longer have to censor themselves). This trend of segregation and antagonism between social justice advocates was felt to be detrimental to the overall goals, and many saw the Knowledge Exchange Forum as a space in which these difficulties might be overcome.
“Unreal divisions are emerging between service providers and advocacy groups, and also within and between organisations. Advocacy must be prioritised more even in the current climate”. The emergence of new ‘decision shapers’ such as the Troika further complicate the challenge faces by the community and voluntary sector, blurring the lines of accountability and the ability to pinpoint where decisions are being made and who is making them.
Several accounts alluded to the hardening of attitudes towards vulnerable groups, and in particular people with disabilities. With the loss of Special Needs Assistants in schools, children are being exposed to the realities of their needs and disabilities. The withdrawal of resources is leading to regressive attitudes and the view that these children are no longer suited to mainstream schools. The view was consequently expressed that inclusion and solidarity with those on the margins of society can only happen with the right resources. One possible opportunity put forward to address the change in public opinion was the use of social media, particularly given the mainstream media’s penchant for following the problems of ‘the squeezed middle’ as opposed to the most vulnerable in society. A focal point in the conversation was therefore assessing the impact of new media and pop-up campaigns such as ‘Anglo Not Our Debt’. There was general agreement on the need to harness the power of social media and its ability to engage the public, although it was recognised as a fairly resource-intensive mode of advocacy.
“We should think about the implications of developments in technology and social media as they represent important opportunities to reconstruct advocacy as a conversation, not just as an ‘out there’”. Several participants confirmed the reality of the phenomenon of burnout in the sector, particularly with the increase in demand on many agencies, and the need to form new alliances and share strategies in order to address the energy-deficits within small organisations in particular. Whilst acknowledging that umbrella groups can’t function without resources, the pooling of knowledge and energy in ‘resource-light’ organisations was also seen as vital to the survival and renewal of a diverse range of advocacy initiatives. In a period where public servants are being targeted for their role in the on-going recession, attempts must be made to regroup and strengthen the social justice movement, and the use of social media was again suggested as a mechanism for bringing the discourse of social justice to a wider section of society. In addition, the potential for more fluid structures to overcome biases against particular professional and organisations was explored. However there was some suggestion that an artificial division has emerged between service providers and advocacy groups, a development that could only be detrimental to the achievement of goals. Finally, it was agreed that advocacy must be prioritised even in the current climate. This came in response to the observed prioritisation of primary services for funding over advocacy activities due to a lack of association with concrete outcomes. Following this conversation, two additional questions were posed: a) How do you as an advocate sustain yourself? b) Where are the signs of new possibilities? While one contributor argued that sustaining oneself professionally requires other pursuits outside the job rather than focussing endlessly on the difficulties, another suggestion that offered solutions to both problems was the practice of drawing more actors into advocacy 8
activities. A second proposal that tackles both problems was merging with other groups, or working with broadly similar organisations to try to get a range of issues on the agenda. When faced with the constant threat of obliteration, it was agreed, there is a particular need for imagination and innovation with respect to advocacy. One suggestion for new pathways was reclaiming the notion of social partnership, and strengthening the interactive and cooperative aspects of advocacy. In recent years social partnership has become a ‘dirty word’, and is seen as part of the problem. Following from this is the conception that ‘dialogue is bad’, that it led to poor and sloppy thinking, lowest common denominator etc. It was felt that there is a job to be done here in the process of renewing and re-energising advocacy. Related to this was the suggestion that social media represents an opportunity to develop advocacy as a conversation, not just as an ‘out there’.
What do we want from the Knowledge Exchange Forum? The first role envisaged for the Knowledge Exchange Forum was finding ways to strengthening the case for advocacy, and moving beyond the narrow view of value for money in state funding of the community and voluntary sector more generally. There was some debate as to whether the Knowledge Exchange Forum should develop explicit parameters for discussion or retain an open-ended dimension. It was acknowledged that participants are coming from quite different places, and facing diverse practical and structural difficulties, which means that there is a plethora of ideas that need to be discussed. Bearing this in mind, it was suggested that the Forum might benefit from more fluid, issue-based structures. In addition, while some participants called for a safe space to reflect, exchange ideas, and celebrate failure without competition and with the potential for collaboration, others called for a ‘dangerous space’ for open and frank discussion. The possibility of combining these two requests by emphasising confidentiality and developing bonds of trust whilst pushing the boundaries of conversations surrounding advocacy was also discussed. Another important point brought forward was that it is not possible to advocate without understanding. The possibility of the Knowledge Exchange Forum becoming a space of learning was therefore discussed, and it was envisaged that experts might be invited to speak on specific topics like the Troika agreement.
“The Troika aren’t responsible for everything. We need to ask who really effects change in this country?”
The potential for insularity in the Knowledge Exchange Forum was also discussed, and there was a suggestion that some of the bases and spaces should be moved out of capital to avoid mirroring of situated issues and to avoid the exclusion of those who cannot afford to travel. The importance of bringing the experiences of the unemployed and other service users to forum was also identified as being essential to maintaining links with the people being advocated for. Finally, it was felt that reflection is needed on the manner in which advocacy groups engage with the system.
Social justice advocacy in the United States with Dr Heléne Clark Dr Heléne Clark, Director of ActKnowledge, is an urban geographer and environmental psychologist who works with organisations engaged in social change to build their capacity to develop clear goals, gather knowledge about results, and expand the impact of critical social interventions. On this occasion she assessed the positive and negative aspects of the current state of advocacy in the United States.
Initially Dr Clark confirmed the prevalence of the language of social justice being successfully usurped by other parties, in this case by right-wing advocates. She described the process whereby words that usually have positive connotations (justice, fairness, equality etc.) have come to be understood as having anti-American, and socialist undertones. Without an effective language, she argued, there can be no social justice advocacy, as attempts to drive social change are interpreted as an anti-American movement. She indicated that it may be worthwhile to look into the success of the right, but also to return to the question of why social justice is good in the long run.
Critical thinking is that reflective and evidence-based mode of reasoning that aims to improve the quality of thought by questioning underlying assumptions, methods and values, and systematically evaluating information collected.
Dr Clark called for the re-introduction of critical thinking to talk about income redistribution and inequality. The notion of redistribution as ‘taking money from people who have earned it and giving it to people who haven’t’ leads to the immediate marginalisation of the issue. In particular, she advocated a more balanced approach to ‘the facts’, such as taking into account the damage that multi-millionaires have done to the economy as well as the integral role of their capital to economic renewal. On this issue, Dr Clark drew attention to the common practice of dismissing and discrediting facts and science. ‘Myths’, such as ‘Obama ruined the economy’, are repeated, unquestioned by the media, according to Dr Clark, leading to the suppression of some of the progressive messages. While in many ways pessimistic about the current state of advocacy in the United States, Dr Clark attempted to bring out some of the positives as well as the challenges faced by advocacy groups. For example she spoke about the new opportunities brought forth by social media, and referenced recent campaign successes in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and fight against the de-funding of planned parenthood services (explain). In her opinion however, these represent qualified victories, as they do not address structural inequalities, focussing rather on specific issues and using targeted campaigns to achieve results. One of the key cases Dr Clark discussed was the Occupy Wall Street movement, as for her it represented both positive and negative developments. Her questions revolved around whether new forms of social justice advocacy such as this should be embraced as the flexible, immediate alternative to a strict division of labour between relatively constant organisations advocating on specific issues? On the one hand Dr Clark criticised the Occupy 10
movement on the basis that it preaches to the choir and fails to convince new sections of the population. In addition, as with many other movements of the left it lacks internal solidarity, composed as it is of diverse and segregated groups. Finally Dr Clark criticised the movement for its concentration on the problems rather than a constructive approach to solutions. On the other hand, some seeds of hope seem to have been sown, according to Dr Clarke, as the movement may have an impact on the direction of President Obama’s next campaign. Specifically, the issue of inequality may be reclaimed from the Right and put back on the agenda in forthcoming election campaigns. If this becomes a reality, Dr Clark argued, the Occupy movement may be considered a success. Bearing this in mind, Dr Clark’s advice to the members of the Knowledge Exchange Forum was to develop critical thinking and forge pathways to feasible solutions, focusing less on the sense of disbelief and outrage than on possible answers. Secondly, Dr Clark drew attention to the need to get the message out in a way that is appealing and understandable, as well as compatible with other values such as the importance of family and prosperity. Whilst acknowledging that in a small country such as Ireland it may be more important to influence those in power than those on the ground, her strategic advice centred around the need to develop specific pathways to get social justice concerns on the mainstream agenda.
Discussion The question and answer session following Dr Clark’s speech returned to the issues of knowledge and science, and the role they play in advocacy. It was suggested that there has been a collapse in trust in Europe in light of the strategic use of knowledge, such that evidence-based approaches are increasingly questioned and discredited. Dr Clark’s concern with the dismissal of fact stemmed more from the strongly faith-based approach to politics and the corresponding belief that intellectuals and leftist academics cannot be trusted. Also discussed were the differences between Ireland and the US in the need to advance engagement with the public. Dr Clark alluded to the particular strength of the extreme religious right in the U.S. that has led to an erosion of the conversation on the core values of social justice and the consequent need for re-education. In respect of Dr Clark’s appraisal of the Occupy movement, it was suggested that because of the diversity of the movement there are considerable difficulties to face in the transition from problem-definition to solution-definition. In particular, it is easier to stay focused on the problem because moving beyond this means moving beyond community that is bound by agreement over the problem. The shared language disappears when we move onto solution definition, necessitating the search for new bedfellows. As regards the successful targeted campaigns, there was some discussion around whether a trade-off might be emerging between the ability to account for the structural nature of problems and the ability to run successful campaigns. While it was suggested that social media might also be harnessed to host conversations about basic social justice issues and improve the overall message, the importance of small wins in energising campaigns was also highlighted. Overall it was felt that reflecting on recent successes requires advocacy groups to think broadly about who and what advocacy is, and how to develop new campaigns that feed out of this energy.
“Can we learn from the small businesses and their successes? We can’t shape our solutions to fit nicely within the free market economy, so should we encourage change from within or challenge the system as a whole?”
There was considerable debate about the prospect of learning from the success of both the right and the small business sector. Dr Clark felt that the differences in the success of advocacy between the Right and the Left could not simply be put down to corporate backing, and encouraged the Knowledge Exchange Forum to look into the possibility of up-skilling with lessons learned from the right about crafting messages that resonate with people. However it was suggested that their successes could in many instances be attributed to the compatibility of their solutions with the free market economy. Many of the social justice solutions do not fit easily into the free market economy, instead challenging the legitimacy of the system as a whole. The potential negative effects of advocacy on the effectiveness of unstable governments was probed when a comparison was drawn between the current Irish and U.S. governments. Both governments were seen as wrestling with the legacy of the previous government, having raised hopes they couldn’t deliver on. Particular emphasis was placed on the difficulties caused by advocacy groups addressing the public directly. By blaming government, it was suggested, any positive steps that have been made are undermined. Rather than blaming individuals, one contributor suggested an evidence based approach that looks at the public’s failure to give support, or government’s failure to get support for specific policies. In response to this, Dr Clark cited the difficulties of breaking through to such an evidence-based approach due to the heavy influence of corporate lobbying on policy in the U.S. However she did acknowledge the potentially damaging effects of advocacy. If advocacy groups blame the failure to advance social justice concerns on Obama’s administration and the Right oppose the government on ideological grounds, it is impossible to make political progress.
Reflective practice and the future of social justice advocacy in Ireland Following the afternoon lecture, Maria Hegarty, Equality Strategies, facilitated a discussion on reflective practice and the future of social justice advocacy in Ireland
Reflective Practice: ‘In reflective practice, practitioners engage in a continuous cycle of selfobservation and self-evaluation in order to understand their own actions and the reactions they prompt in themselves and other learners’ (Brookfield, 1995; Thiel, 1999). ‘The goal is not necessarily to address a specific problem or question defined at the outset, as in practitioner research, but to observe and refine practice in general on an ongoing bases’ (Cunningham, 2001).
Three questions were put forward as springboards for discussion: 1. How should we use this space to reflect on the practice of advocacy? 2. What do we mean by reflective practice? 3. How do you reflect on your practice? In terms of how the Knowledge Exchange Forum might be useful for individuals, it was envisaged as a space where people come to learn, and are afforded the opportunity to stand back from campaigns whilst opening up to things that weren’t done right. It was also seen as a place to learn about new developments in the sector, and an opportunity to exchange a range of prepared work. The idea of having periodic presentations to the group was popular, although emphasis was placed on everyone taking responsibility for the space and bringing something to it rather than being a passive audience. As regards how the space should be used, it was felt that critical thinking should be the focus of each agenda. Not only is it important to bring in the views of others, and those we are advocating for and to, but also those with whom the message does not resonate. In terms of the concrete arrangements for future sessions, a mix of different ways of engaging with each other was recommended to ensure that each participant is constantly challenged. For example it was suggested that someone might come in to talk about meta-level strategies or an especially difficult topic, followed by a World Café-type workshop. In addition, the new media were seen as a way to open the space up to the rest of the country.
“There has been a lot of media attention on ‘the squeezed middle’ recently. Where is the article on those who were always on the margins?” Some time was spent discussing the role of the traditional mainstream media, and their failure to adequately report on the plight of the most vulnerable in society whilst drawing attention to the ‘coping classes’. On the other hand the appearance of editorials calling for 13
the right to work for asylum seekers in several newspapers recently was seen as a successful outcome of a serious lobbying campaign. It was proposed that journalists be invited to participate in the Forum in order to break down barriers to the sharing of information, although this raised some issues in relation to the trust and confidentiality required for the sharing of knowledge. There was some reflection on the challenge posed by the collapse of the sector and the apparent success of business-oriented advocacy. In particular, some highlighted the danger that success of other side will ensure that social justice advocates change their message to look like theirs, where in fact the business sector’s message is often clearer because it does not seek to radically change the status quo. Regrouping in light of new challenges should not entail losing sight of or abandoning the fundamental message. Key Suggestions for Future Forums
Challenge participants with periodic presentations combined with world-café type discussions Invite a diverse range of stakeholders and interest group to participate in the Forum, enabling more successful collaboration and solution-definition Use social media to avoid geographical insularity Create a safe space in which to reflect and share strategies
Some potential functions for the Knowledge Exchange Forum were explored including the possibility of defining solutions in partnership with other stakeholders, as well as discussing concrete strategies to share what works and what doesn’t. The potential for partnerships and collaborative campaigns to emerge from the Forum was also cited, as well as developing new toolkits for engaging with the media. One of the most important functions was deemed to be addressing the lack of shared understandings, and redefining community and voluntary groups as a more coherent sector that is visible in the media. As regards the third question, there was a struggle to describe the practice of reflection, with several different proposals being put forward. Initially it was suggested that reflection generally happens when planning forward, and that there is an overlap in the practice of leadership and that of reflective practice, as it involves an awareness of what the membership of an organisation are looking for, the ability to prioritise and analyse the success of particular strategies etc. Another participant listed several sites of reflection as follows: First, do the policies have resonance with the membership, policy workers, broader public, target groups etc.? Second, what is possible in light of current constraints, changing realities and limited resources? Third, which strategies are not working, including what is being requested and how? Fourth, can a colleague or external supervisor help with reflective practice? Other participants pointed towards the need to focus on interpersonal relations. Despite these different notions of what reflective practice represents, it was accepted that developing reflective practice is essential to the success of advocacy, as it leads to new strategies and potentially different results.
Overall this discussion emerged as the most challenging item on the agenda as it appeared to expose some difficulties in conceptualising and describing reflective practice among social justice advocates. This reduced capacity to reflect effectively and creatively may plausibly be attributed to the intense pressure on individuals and organisations in the current climate; however it became clear throughout the session that another role for the Knowledge Exchange Forum had emerged in dealing with the apparent deficiencies in reflective practice. The session concluded with the reiteration of the value in collectively coming together to improve practice, and by setting the agenda for the next meeting.
Southside Travellers Action Group
Focus Ireland Mike
Mental Health Campaign B-Spoke Training & Education TFB Projects
Oonagh Avril Lillian Paul Frances
Family Support Agency Free Legal Advice Centres University College Dublin
Browne Buchanan Butler Byrne
Disability Federation of Ireland Nexus Research OPEN The Atlantic Philanthropies
Caroline Eugene Nadette
Fahey Flynn Foley
Society of St Vincent de Paul 54 Degrees Facing Forward North West Inner City Network Trocaire Caring for Carers European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN) Ireland Irish Women's Advocacy Service
Misean Cara Sonas
Barnardos Early Childhood Ireland
Irish Autism Action
Karla Dr Helene
Empowering people in care Acknowledge The Alzheimer Society of Ireland The Wheel Volunteer Dublin City North Southside Travellers Action Group Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) Centre for Independent Living Saint John of Gods Menni
Volunteer Ireland Southside Travellers Action Group Consumers Association of Ireland Carmichael Centre
Public Communications Centre Jass Rose court Resource Centre Appletree Health and Wellness Amnesty International
REGISTRATION LIST Robin Hanan
European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN) Ireland Macro Community Centre Amnesty International
Montague Communications Ethiopia Carmichael Centre Philanthropy Ireland
Amnesty International Irish Section Equality Strategies
Equality Authority Barnardos
Healthy Food For All Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign Aspire Ireland
Centre for Independent Living
Chronic Pain Ireland
Clare Intercultural Network and Clare Active. Ethiopia Carmichael Centre
Community Workers' Cooperative ENAR Ireland
The Irish Heart Foundation
Óh Éigeartaigh O Mahony
O Siochru O'Brien
Irish Bishops Conference Nexus Research Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed National Women's Council of Ireland Community Platform Irish Cancer Society Irish Traveller Movement TASC
Centre for Independent Living
University College Cork Society of St Vincent de Paul Early Childhood Ireland The Irish Heart Foundation
Equality Rights Alliance Society of St Vincent de Paul
Support Officer Disability Federation of Ireland The Irish Review of CED Law & Policy Irish Penal Reform Trust
Irish Charities Tax Reform Group
REGISTRATION LIST Gina
Chronic Pain Ireland
Gheel Autism Services and Arts and Disability Equality Works
Southside Travellers Action Group Inkex
The Integration Centre Gay and Lesbian Equality Network Irish Bishops Conference
Gay and Lesbian Equality Network National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) IMCV
Irish Family Planning Association Gay and Lesbian Equality Network Legal Aid Board Public Communications Centre The Advocacy Initiative The Advocacy Initiative Dochas
References Brookfield, S. (1995) Becoming a critically reflective teacher, San Francisco: JosseyBass. Cunningham, F.M.A. (2001) Reflective teaching practice in adult ESL in Eric Digest, Washington DC: NCLE. Available at http://eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED451733.pdf (27/03/12). Thiel, T. (1999) Reflections on critical incidents, Prospect, 14, (1), 44-52.