CARE's Policy Approach

Policy Learning Partner (PLP)

In contrast to the “us vs. them” stance of traditional advocacy models, the policy learning partner (PLP) approach to policy change starts with the position that government is not an external agent to be influenced by facts and findings. Instead, the government is a partner and collaborator for a common cause. This approach assumes that the target entity of government is basically in agreement with the policy changes desired by the civil society organization(s), but may lack sufficient evidence to justify the changes in the face of competing priorities or political risk. In addition, even when there is evidence and a mandate to bring about desired changes, government may lack a practical path for doing so. The PLP approach thus emphasizes a research and learning process that focuses on jointly defining desired outcomes and a learning agenda that will provide government partners with the necessary evidence and options for making policy and investment decisions.

Another benefit to the PLP approach is the opportunity it affords to better understand government priorities, strategies and timetables through a closer working relationship. The design of SWASH+ II calls for government representation in the management structures of the project and placement of key project staff within government-led thematic working groups. In other programs in Kenya, Guatemala, Somalia and Peru, CARE staff are seconded to government offices – and work alongside relevant stakeholders on a daily basis. 

Through these and other experiences, CARE has distilled the following lessons:

  • Understand the broader narrative — It is common for NGOs to view change through the lens of a specific project or program. However, the project or program is only one strand of a very complex weave of interventions, actors, motives and timelines. Government sees the bigger picture and the NGO partner(s) must try to understand how their work fits into government’s broader agenda, rather than vice versa. With this understanding in mind, cultivating government allies becomes easier when the program can prove to be supporting their passion and their needs.
  • Government is not a monolith — It is composed of many departments, ministries and branches. It is important to map the key government constituents in the project’s sphere of influence and what their various strategies are. Communications targeted at government must be concise and contextualized within these broader strategies.
  • Have in place appropriate processes for collaboration — Government partners may not be able to attend the same number of project management meetings as NGO and civil society partners. There must be avenues for collaboration that are conducive to governments’ ways of working, such as participation in government-led working groups and steering committees and regular visits to ministry offices.
  • Engineer for unexpected change — Traditional program structures are linear and assume a reliable pattern of cause and effect; working with government is unpredictable. Changes in posts due to election cycles, changes in policies, and changes in funding may all affect government engagement or interest. Program designs which focus on outcomes and allow flexibility for modifying strategies and tactics, are advisable. Funders need to be aware of and comfortable with an implementation journey that may take unexpected turns.  Monitoring, evaluation and learning systems must also anticipate unexpected developments and deviations from planned activities.


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