Advocacy might simply be defined as the act of publicly representing an individual, an organization or an idea with the object of persuading targeted audiences to look favourably on or accept the point of the view of the individual, the organization or the idea.

The tactics and strategies of public policy advocacy are numerous and complex, but accomplished and respected public policy advocates realize that their careers will succeed only if conducted according to both the letter and the spirit of laws and regulations affecting the public policy advocacy activities they undertake. Indeed, professional public policy advocacy rests on ethical conduct and abidance by the law. Ethics underpins professional public policy advocacy. Reputation is an immediate outcome of ethics. It results from an evaluation the others make at a given time, which depends on the norms, moral attitudes, and system of values operating at that time. The public policy advocate's reputation can be lost, re-assessed, grown, depending on how stakeholders they interact with are perceived.

10 Criteria for Ethical Public Policy Advocacy

  1. Evaluation: Detached or objective evaluation of the issue-client organization before determining whether it merits advocacy.
  2. Priority: Once the practitioner has assumed the role of advocate, the interests of the client or organization are valued above those of otyers in the public debate.
  3. Sensitivity: Balancing of client priority on one hand with social responsibility on the other.
  4. Confidentiality: Protection of the client's or organization's rights to confidentiality and secrecy on matters for which secrets are morally justified.
  5. Veracity: Full truthfulness in all matters; deception and evasion can be considered morally acceptable only under exceptional circumstances when all thruthful possibilities have been ruled out. This implies trustworthiness.
  6. Reversability: If the situation were reversed, the advocate-client organization would be satisfied that it had sufficient information to make an informed decision.
  7. Validity: All communication on behalf of the client or organization are defensible against attacks on their validity.
  8. Visibility: Clear identification of all communication on behalf of the client or organization as originating from that source.
  9. Respect: Regard for audiences as autonomous individuals with rights to make informed choices and to have informed participation in decisions that affect them; willingness to promote dialogue over monologue.
  10. Consent: Communication on behalf of the client or organization is carried out only under conditions to which it can be assumed all parties consent.

If practitioners meet all of the criteria, they can be assured that their efforts are ethical. If their practices do not meet any of the outlined criteria, their standards of ethics are much too lax. Therefore, the number of criteria practitioners meet can be used to measure how much remedial work needs to be done to improve their ethical standards.

Factor Analysis of Ethical Criteria


  1. When determining whether to take on a new client or issue, how often do you evaluate the issue, client or organization to decide if it merits your service?
  2. Assuming your first loyalty is to those you represent, do you consider the effects on others?
  3. How often do you make clients aware of these effects?


  1. When engaging in public policy advocacy, how often do you provide the opposing point of view to the issue you are supporting as part of your pitch?
  2. How often is such information included for strategic purposes?
  3. How often do you feel obligated to include such information out of respect for the person you are lobbying?
  4. When engaging in public policy advocacy, do you conceal the identity of the group(s) your represent for certain communications?


  1. Do you make lobbying decisions for the group (s) you represent on your own?
  2. Do you consult those you represent before making lobbying decisions?

Nature of Public Policy Advocacy

  1. As a public policy advocate, how often do you enact a practitioner-client privilege in which you promise protection of legitimately confidential information (such as employee records, trade secrets and matters of national security) ?
  2. As a public policy advocate, when you interact with policymakers are there understood conditions of conduct?


  1. When communicating on behalf of those you represent, do you present arguments based on reasoning and facts alone?
  2. When communicating on behalf of those you represent, do you rely on emotional appeals to gain audience support?


  1. How often do you provide policymakers with full disclosure?
  2. How often have you purposefully provided legislators with inaccurate information to influence their decisions?
  3. How often have you purposefully provided legislators with incomplete information to influence their decisions ?


  1. In your day-to-day professional activities, do you consider the interests of those you represent the driving force in your decision-making?
  2. When working with policymakers, how often do you see them as means to a successful public policy advocacy campaign.

The ethical criteria public policy advocates most often consider relate to seven underlying dimensions: These factors are divided into micro-factors (situation, strategy, and argument) and macro factors (nature of public policy advocacy, information and priority). The factor of procedure bridges the gap between the micro and macro ethical issues.


  • Public policy advocates structure ethical criteria around factors that enable them to meet their clients' needs while fulfilling obligations to legislators and protecting their reputation.
  • Professional codes of ethics/codes of conduct do not address all ethical issues.
  • Public policy advocates have a standard of norms.
  • Public policy advocates know that providing inaccurate information to legislators are unacceptable because relationships are based on trust.
  • There are understood conditions of conduct between public policy advocates and legislators that foster acceptable behaviour and discourage improper activities.








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