Marc Porter Magee Ph.D is the CEO and founder of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Advocacy can be pretty hard to wrap your mind around and so we’ve found it helpful to lean on some simple metaphors to help guide our work. In The 50CAN Guide to Building Advocacy Campaigns  we use a lot of construction metaphors: goals as houses, strategies as blueprints and tactics as tools.

While they carry us a long way, construction metaphors have a crucial flaw: they encourage us to think we can achieve our objectives much more quickly, consistently and permanently than is actually the case. To thrive in the world of advocacy you must be able to embrace what you can’t control.  

Thinking like a gardener

While construction is about the world of things, advocacy is about the world of people. People, like gardens, don’t fit into simple plans. If you want to change something, you need to create the conditions for that change to emerge and have the patience to continuously adjust to the inevitable twists and turns along the way. That agility takes a lot of work.  

As the American botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey observed, “Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.” Below are three lessons from gardening that we have found helpful in our journey as advocates.    

Start with commitment

“If the garden is to thrive you must commit yourself to it for years, for the creation of a garden takes place over time.” – Simone Martel

No one would embark on creating a garden with the idea that they plot a course from barren soil to lush plants in a few weeks or that they could walk away after the first shoots emerged from the ground. But that’s exactly the trap far too many of us fall into with advocacy.

The starting point for any campaign must be a commitment to not skip steps in guiding an idea into a fully implemented policy change and to stay with that change for years after the initial goals have been reached. As with a garden, most of the work comes after the initial success: pruning the elements that didn’t work as expected, weeding out the obstacles that stand in the way of future growth and ensuring that your idea has the resources it needs to flourish.

Embrace change

“A garden should be in a constant state of fluid change, expansion, experiment, adventure.” – H. E. Bates

While the blueprints for a house can’t shift after you start construction, the plan for your garden must evolve in a fluid process through the natural change of the seasons. The same should be true for your advocacy plan.

You will be surprised by things that are harder than expected but also by things that go much easier than planned. New opportunities will emerge that you couldn’t have predicted and you’ll need to be flexible enough to take advantage of them before they go away. The right mindset is one of adventure, embracing the unpredictability of your environment and drawing your energy from the excitement of the unexpected.

Don’t lose faith

“Plants want to grow; they are on your side as long as you are reasonably sensible.” -Anne Wareham

With all the challenges of making change in the world, its easy to get discouraged. Its helpful to be reminded that if you are in tune with your environment, the odds will be on your side. Like a gardener who has tilled the soil, planted the seeds and ensured proper sunlight and water, if you follow the basic steps in planning and carrying out an advocacy campaign you will make a difference.

It won’t always be on the timeline you would want or be the complete victory you are seeking, but just as plants want to grow, people want to see their communities improve. If you are sensible in your approach and stick with the work, the ideas you are advocating for will have a chance to flourish.

Can’t get enough of the gardening theme? Explore our 2014 #CANnualReport and see how some of these ideas are taking root for kids across the country. 



Recent Posts

More posts from Miscellaneous

See All Posts