Strategy and Stance: A Framework for Understanding Public Advocacy

Vanderbilt Discussion Paper No. 110501

24 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2005

See all articles by Roger L. Conner

Roger L. Conner

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: November 20, 2005


This paper proposes a new framework to analyze the behavior of "public advocates", defined as professionals who seek to influence public policy on behalf of the public interest. Using the framework, it describes systemic pressures that lead public advocates to overuse adversarial, coercive tactics.

The framework classifies each action of a public advocate into four broad categories based on choices about "strategy" (how to use available resources to cause change) and "stance" (the mental map of the person or institution that s/he seeks to influence). Alternative strategies can be arrayed on a continuum from "push" to "pull", and alternative stances from "friend" to "foe". Using a matrix or grid, advocacy to influence a particular target can be characterized as push-foe, push-friend, pull-foe, or pull-friend.

Based on extensive personal experience, the author suggests that the choice of stance is subject to a systemic negative bias: in a sustained dispute, most competing advocates will come to see the "other" as foes. A foe stance distorts judgment about strategy so that push strategies appear to be the only realistic option. This explains the prevalence of what the author calls the "Advocacy Trap", where advocates continue to treat others as enemies (foe stance) to be attacked and discredited (push strategy) despite repeated failure.

To the extent that successful public advocacy requires a judicious mix of push and pull strategies, public advocates need to maintain a stance of respect in the face of hostility. The author concludes by calling for a new conversation among educators, scholars, philanthropists, foundations, citizen activists and journalists on how to educate, recognize, and support public advocates who embody this approach.

Keywords: Advocacy, Ethics, Lobbying, strategy, policy, prisoner's dilemma, conflict, conflict resolution, negotiation, professinal ethics, dispute, legislation, non-profit, non-profit organizations, interest groups, public interest, common ground, compromise, ADR, public advocacy

JEL Classification: C70, C72, D60, D70, D74, D78, H70, K0, L30, K40

Suggested Citation

Conner, Roger L., Strategy and Stance: A Framework for Understanding Public Advocacy (November 20, 2005). Vanderbilt Discussion Paper No. 110501, Available at SSRN: or

Roger L. Conner (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

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