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Models of Advocacy

Advocacy belongs to the family of conflict resolution.  Conflict can be resolved using two parties or three parties depending on whether a model for mediation, conciliation, negotiation or advocacy is used.  Advocacy means to advocate for or defend how you feel about something by advancing a certain viewpoint. 

The Nationwide Health and Disability Advocacy Service advocates use an empowerment model with a strength-based approach.


Figure 1 - Family of Conflict Resolution

Fig 1 Models of advocacy




Types of advocacy

Advocacy fits on a continuum of influence

Empowerment advocacy

A strengths-based approach


Types of Advocacy

The different forms of advocacy are not necessarily mutually exclusive and do not have neat boundaries, for example (this is not an exhaustive list):

Self Advocacy - This is standing up for one's self.  Anyone can act as his or her own advocate.  It is when a person makes an informed decision about a matter of importance and then takes responsibility for bringing about the change necessary to make that choice a reality.

Peer Advocacy - takes place when the individual providing the help has been through, or is going through, a similar experience.  This is also known as support advocacy and is often used by support groups

Best Interest Advocacy   - Decisions are made by someone considered to have the best interests of the consumer in mind and/or who is considered to have the knowledge needed to make an informed decision - often on behalf of the consumer.  The consumer may not be part of the decision making process.

Statutory Advocacy - is where someone is appointed with legal responsibility to represent another such as a welfare guardian.

Crisis Advocacy - uses a one to one relationship between a paid or unpaid advocate and someone who is at risk of being mistreated or excluded. This is usually a short-term one-off arrangement organised to deal with crisis.

Professional/Specialist Advocacy - is most widely recognised as legal advocacy, but may also be provided by others who provide specialist advocacy service such as HDC advocates specialising in advocacy under the Health and Disability Commissioner Act.

Political Advocacy - can include lobbying and is the advancement of particular viewpoints at a political level on behalf of a group of people.



Advocacy fits on a continuum of influence

At one end of the continuum is protest, in the middle is advocacy and at the other end of the continuum is lobbying.  Along the continuum of influence, protest is at the beginning and is usually carried out by action groups rather than individuals.  

Advocacy is divided into two main types of advocacy, case and cause or systemic   advocacy.   An individual or groups of individuals either carry out case advocacy by themselves as self-advocates or using paid or unpaid advocates who either support or represent their case. 

A Work and Income New Zealand beneficiary advocating for eligibility to an accommodation allowance or a health and disability advocate advocating alongside a health service consumer for an apology from a general practitioner where the consumer believes her rights have been breached, are examples of case advocacy. 

Cause or systemic advocacy is where an individual or group advocates on the need to bring about changes to a structure, system, policy or legislation.  This form of advocacy does not focus on an individual but instead represents the rights and interests of a group with similar concerns and issues.  Systemic advocacy from the perspective of an HDC advocate could relate to a local service or it could be based on a regional or national service systems failure. 

Health and disability advocates are also required to bring any matters to the Commissioner relating to the rights of health and disability service consumers, which, in the advocate's opinion should be drawn to his attention.

These types of referrals often relate to issues of public safety and are seen as systemic issues.

Political advocacy is most effective when the lobbyist or advocate has some influence in the corridors of power.  Lobbyists are usually interested in influencing policy and legislation at local and central government levels. 

This is part of the Director of Advocacy's role to submit submissions and comment on policy affecting consumers and their rights.

Figure 2 - Continuum of Influence

Fig 2, Models of advocacy

  Empowerment advocacy

Health and disability advocates use what is called empowerment advocacy to assist or act on behalf of a consumer.  This requires them to direct the process to assist the consumer to resolve his or her complaint rather than directing the content of the complaint.

The aims of empowerment are to assist consumers to see:

  • themselves as people with rights who have the resources to find solutions to their own problems;
  • themselves as having skills and strengths;
  • advocates as having knowledge and skills that consumers can use;
  • advocates as peers and partners in finding solutions and driving change;
  • that power structures are complex and partly open to influence.

The advocate's role that works best in empowerment is as a:

Resources person - linking consumers to resources in ways which improve their confidence and solution finding abilities;

Coach/Mentor - teaching processes and skills, imparting knowledge and information that enable the consumer to retain control of their own concerns and issues.


Figure 3 - Empowerment Continuum[1]:

Fig 3, models of advocacy

People from time to time may find themselves at different places on the empowerment continuum (see Figure 3 above) depending on the issue they are facing, the level of support they have, their wellness, ability, motivation, the information and or knowledge they have. 

Generally, those people who are experiencing disempowerment require a wider range of advocacy skills and knowledge and more time. 

Advocates are likely to need specialist skills when working at the disempowerment end of the continuum or they may need expert advice or support, for example, an interpreter, cultural advisor or welfare guardian.

Advocates need to be flexible in the approaches they use to ensure consumers receive the type of advocacy support most likely to increase their ability to self advocate and to become empowered to make their own choices about the solutions to their issues and concerns.

A strengths-based approach

A strengths-based approach is essentially about:

  • an approach to people which is dependant upon positive attitudes about people's dignity, capacities, rights, uniqueness and commonalties;
  • creating a culture of 'power with' to reduce power imbalance;
  • believing that people are capable of change and growth;
  • believing that people are their own best experts;
  • the problem is the problem; the person is not the problem.

Strengths-based practice gives wings to the empowerment advocacy way of working. 

It's all about:

  • validating the complainant's experience;
  • acknowledging and addressing structural constraints and social inequalities;
  • assisting the complainant to focus on the solution;
  • using the complainants resources, experiences, capacities and skills and assisting them to apply these to reaching their own solution to the issues;  
  • ensuring any additional resources are made available to the complainant;
  • supporting and encouraging the complainant;
  • assisting the complainant to explore future possibilities and ways of being;
  • measuring progress against the goals set by the complainant;
  • evaluating the process used and the advocate's contribution to the solutions achieved;
  • ensuring the client has a record of the work carried out.

Defining goals in a strengths-based practice

Assisting a consumer to realise the change he or she wants or the aspirations he or she has is assisted by setting concrete goals in a pro-active process aimed at:

  • harnessing consumer energy and focus at the beginning of the work;
  • establishing a clear understanding between consumer and advocate about the purpose of their work together;
  • ensuring the work is consumer driven;
  • providing a degree of stability, security and clarity when consumers are finding the process difficult or confusing;
  • reinforcing that the client's/consumers views and understanding of the situation are crucial to the work being undertaken;
  • giving a message of competence to consumers that enables them to move to a solution focus;
  • building confidence and belief that change is possible;
  • making clear the process of support and reducing consumer concerns and anxiety about seeking help.


Figure 4 - Advocacy Services within an Empowerment Continuum

Fig 4, Models of advocacy







[1] This is an excerpt from a model developed by St Lukes in Bendigo

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