As we advance in our efforts to break down barriers to good vision, effective advocacy is instrumental to achieving high-level policy commitments. In order to meet the U.N.’s target of “Vision for everyone” by 2030, advocacy helps us all mobilize funding and empower governments and other stakeholders to include eye health in their implementation agendas, particularly as we navigate the COVID-19 era.
We recently spoke with our advocacy team, Eva Lazuka-Nicoulaud, Europe/Africa, and Judith Marcano Williams, The Americas, to gain their perspective on the issue.
Q: If we are to harness the power of advocacy, we need a well-designed framework. What does that framework look like to you?
Eva: In my experience, effective advocacy requires clarity of purpose, rigorous planning and subsequent monitoring. It has to be a planned process that includes a six-step framework:
Identifying the issue
Deciding on a goal
Defining the strategy
Monitoring and evaluating progress
It is also important to note that even a well-structured approach is insufficient without commitment and support from coalitions and partnerships. Together, we can influence policies and practices while working with those partners whose actions can eliminate avoidable vision problems.
Judith: It’s equally important to keep in mind that advocacy is a dynamic process that must include relevant sources of evidence to help influence targeted decision makers and multi-stakeholder mapping to determine which groups to engage or mobilize.
Also, key to any advocacy strategy is an impactful awareness campaign to communicate high-priority messages through a variety of media channels. And, like Eva mentioned, monitoring our progress helps us effectively adjust to current circumstances and adapt to new developments. In 2021, the VII developed and launched a digital Advocacy Toolkit to help vision advocates better plan and implement their campaign strategies.
Q: What role does advocacy messaging play in our efforts?
Eva: The role of advocacy messaging is to inform, persuade, and move an individual or body of individuals to action. It’s one of many critical components of the broader strategy.
We’ve found that messaging must be:
Focused on a key target audience. Mapping major stakeholders (supporters, opponents, neutral individuals and groups) and knowing what will (will not) motivate them to act helps to identify the key target audience.
Customized and engaging. Creating a message according to the audience's level of understanding and awareness, using appropriate language (avoiding technical jargon and acronyms) and connecting to audience values will empower the engagement.
Simple and strong. Developing a concise and well-articulated statement will emphasize the importance of the cause and prioritize action from the audience.
Evidence-driven. Reliable scientific evidence is fundamental to ensure credibility. Data should be relevant to the target audience (global versus local) and supported by trusted spokespeople (thought leaders, prominent experts, influencing advocates or organizations).
Consistent across channels. Advocacy messaging must be consistent in visual style and tone when fitting into different communication vehicles.
Q. Could you share an example of what it means to redefine barriers to good vision? How would it be translated into an effective advocacy framework and policy dialogue?
Eva: Recent global advocacy efforts recognized poor vision as a major public health, human rights, economic, and development issue. The Lancet Global Health Commission underscores that improving eye health contributes to over half of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
With that evidence, the barriers of awareness, affordability, accessibility, and availability are being redefined into a sustainable development agenda, drawing on new perspectives with targets set forth by the U.N. Resolution on Vision.
From the perspective of SDGs, the IAPB’s 2030 in Sight strategy is a great example of an advocacy framework to advance policy dialogues and enable eye care delivery to everyone.
Q: You mentioned the importance of an evidence-based awareness strategy as a complement to an advocacy framework? Why is that important?
Judith: An evidence-based awareness strategy makes advocacy campaigns stronger and more credible. Awareness activities can influence public health policy and further the cause, reaching different and larger audiences and helping to mobilize communities to call on government officials to act on issues that are important to them. In the case of vision care and eye health, the VII has developed comprehensive media strategies and brought many voices together, working with civil society organizations, parents, community leaders and associations to promote and defend better policy initiatives.
Q: Judith, your work involves advocating for children’s vision in the U.S. How do you structure these efforts to connect education and good vision for children?
Judith: Good vision is crucial for children’s learning. Experts agree that 80 percent of learning is visual. That is why the VII created Kids: See Success, an initiative to advocate for children’s vision in the U.S. at the local and state levels, to reach decision makers who value the impact poor vision has on educational outcomes. In the U.S., many vulnerable populations still do not have access to simple solutions such as a pair of eyeglasses. In fact, across the country, more than 12.1 million children have some form of vision problem. Most recently with the COVID-19 pandemic, the risks for the onset of myopia and myopia progression increased dramatically due to school disruptions, increased use of digital devices, and reduced outdoor time for children. This is one of our areas of focus.
While there are many consequences of poor vision when it comes to academic achievement, good vision is also essential for a child’s long-term physical health and their emotional and social development.
Q: You mentioned built-in flexibility and making adjustments to your strategy when needed. Can you give an example?
Judith: We typically adjust our efforts to local needs, and on the state’s progress toward effective children’s vision legislation. There are states with little to no school eye health vision programs and large disparities in their populations, so it can be challenging to break new ground and map stakeholders with common goals.
COVID-19 has also been a huge challenge that created disruptions, caused setbacks, and shifted health and eye care priorities. However, we continue to move forward, making progress one step at a time.
Q: Advocacy takes time. What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve recently faced, and how did you overcome it?
Eva: In many places around the world, we still lack evidence and must close research gaps locally before engaging in macro-level awareness and advocacy efforts. This takes time and can present obstacles.
During our recent impact study in schools in Kosovo, we had to redefine the protocol due to COVID-19 school lockdowns. Thanks to the technology and agility of our partners, we continued collecting data, while switching to digital methods, and completed the research successfully. It allowed us to share the study outputs with stakeholders in Kosovo in due time.
Judith: Like Eva mentioned, I think the pandemic has taught us to adapt and reimagine advocacy with new strategies, and within a total virtual environment. We continued our advocacy efforts to inform and work with policymakers through other means of communication, and we increased awareness activities to promote vision and eye health topics through various webinars, workshops, and social media campaigns.
In Latin America where there is a long road ahead in terms of vision and eye health advocacy, we were able to create new partnerships, grow evidence and awareness, and empower advocates with our framework to drive and strengthen their local advocacy work for the future.
Q: Given today’s challenges, what would you consider to be a big win for vision advocacy in the near future?
Eva: Awareness and vision advocacy must recover their momentum and elevate the priority of eye health in our world’s pandemic-centered health agenda. Unlocking political will, implementing local strategies, and incorporating eye health indicators in health care systems will be the first success factors of collective effort in this challenging context.
Q: In our first blog of 2022, we challenged our audience to “focus on scaling the wall or redefining the problem” when it comes to good vision. How does this apply to our collective work as advocates?
Eva: I really like the idea of “redefining the problem,” which to me means we must translate barriers into opportunities. As vision advocates, we need to drive patient and market change, sharing new positively redefined perspectives. In today’s world, we will only achieve the ultimate goal if we work collectively, keeping in mind that agility matters and each sequence of success counts.
Judith: Additionally, we can learn how to manage setbacks with resilience. This is why advocacy requires flexibility. In moments of crisis, or when we encounter obstacles, we must reset and reframe the problem. I believe the last few years have provided an opportunity for all advocates to advance the vision agenda by reframing the problem and looking at the bigger picture.
With increasing participation and more proactive support by stakeholders in the advocacy process, we will be able to amplify our message, take collective steps towards the same path, and achieve our ultimate outcomes.