Advocacy: The rise of technology in lobbying

The key to unlocking the true power of disruption lies in recognising that the most transformative ideas often come from those who see the world a little differently.

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Technology is changing how we agitate for change. Old ways combined with new tools, are powering voices, transforming advocacy and lobbying. Today, I examine the traditional, and the new and how they influence social movements and shape political discourse, exploring the benefits and challenges of this shift.

Traditional tools amplified

Email is still a very effective communication channel, even though it is often disregarded in favour of the new and shiny. Email lists are useful for advocacy groups to distribute petitions, assemble supporters, and disseminate information. Social media platforms have evolved into advocacy hubs, acting as digital fireplaces that facilitate real-time conversation, connect groups with supporters, and raise awareness. Platforms like X, Meta, and Telegram enable rapid mobilisation and the distribution of audio-visual content.

The rise of the new

Data and analytics are rewriting advocacy playbooks by helping groups tailor messages, target specific audiences, and measure campaign success. Crowdfunding and mobile money platforms empower individuals and grassroots movements to raise funds for campaigns, democratising campaign financing. While not yet widespread, technologies such as virtual and augmented reality are bringing immersive experiences to social issues. Artificial intelligence cannot miss from the list, powering chatbots that answer supporter questions, personalise outreach, and analyse data to identify advocacy opportunities.

In Kenya, for example, Finance Bill GPT is a resource that allowed thousands of socially engaged citizens to interrogate a proposed Finance Bill, a dense document whose contents had resulted in demonstrations captured on social media timelines by the hashtag #RejectFinanceBill2024.

Technology has dramatically increased reach and mobilisation potential, allowing advocacy groups to connect with a wider audience and mobilise support even across geographic barriers. It empowers anyone with an internet connection to become an advocate, creating a more level playing field. Crowdfunding further supports this by enabling individuals and grassroots movements to raise funds and launch campaigns. Data-driven decision-making through analytics tools gives valuable insights for improved campaign strategies, making it easier to measure impact.

However, there are notable downsides to this. Social media can create echo chambers where users primarily see information that confirms existing beliefs and reaffirms biases, limiting exposure to opposing viewpoints and hindering productive dialogue. The ease of spreading information also facilitates the proliferation of fake news and misinformation, undermining legitimate advocacy efforts and seeding confusion.

Moreover, not everyone has equal access to technology, potentially disenfranchising those without reliable internet or digital literacy skills, further widening existing social inequalities.

The digital revolution in advocacy continues to unfold. While technology offers immense potential for positive change, we must be aware of its limitations.

Mbugua is the head of business and partnerships at Safari Express.

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