Science and advocacy: finding the right balance
Learning how to engage in evidence-based advocacy for investments in sustainable livestock systems in low and middle income countries
Over the last seven years, ILRI has been testing a new approach to evidence based advocacy through the Global Sustainable Livestock Advocacy for Development project – GLAD – funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Initiated in 2016, it makes the case for livestock systems to be significant parts of the development portfolios of investors, donors and policymakers in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). GLAD works with partners in and outside the livestock sector to help promote durable solutions for environmentally responsible, healthy and safe livestock development; to arm change-makers with credible evidence; to help build coalitions of livestock stakeholders, especially those of the South; to facilitate more productive and balanced conversations about the roles of livestock; and to spur responsible and productive collective action.
The approach and focus have evolved as we have learned to carry out evidence-based advocacy. In this blog we want to share some of this learning, and also introduce the new exciting phase which takes ILRI and livestock advocacy in LMICs in exciting new directions.
While livestock are often seen to be at the epicentre of some of the world’s biggest challenges—unhealthy diets, climate change, pandemic threats, biodiversity losses, environmental damage—in LMICs, livestock systems are seen in much more positive ways, providing a wide range of development outcomes such as better nutrition for women and children, better incomes for smallholders, job opportunities for youth, greater empowerment for women, and resilience and adaptation to climate change. Nevertheless, it is clear they must be included—and constructively debated—in discussions to create a fairer and more sustainable future.
Feeding and informing these debates to bring evidence and balance has been at the heart of the GLAD project. As we look forward to 2025, this current phase (2023-2025) targets robust evidence, compelling communication, stakeholder brokerage and policy engagement to inform global discourses around livestock, contribute to positive policy environments and help to grow financial investments in sustainable livestock solutions that deliver food security, climate adaptation, livelihoods and nutrition outcomes in LMICs.
Learning to be science-based advocates
Many scientists find public advocacy and engagement work to be uneasy bedfellows. They worry about evidence cited by the news media, or informing policy and investment processes, being manipulated or taken out of context. Accordingly, they tend to lay their knowledge out there (often in very technical language) and let policymakers decide what to do with it – drawing a firm line between 'science' and 'policy'. The GLAD project and scientific teams have worked together in a step-by-step learning process about what works and what doesn’t in using scientific evidence to advocate for sustainable livestock systems and engage in development processes beyond the livestock sector. The project is learning that while scientists may be cautious about some types of advocacy, they cannot afford to remain silent as global narratives and agendas find their way into national and local-level policy initiatives edging out local knowledge and realities.
GLAD 1: 2016–2019
In the first phase, we focused on synthesizing evidence of the many contributions developing-country livestock livelihoods and systems make to meeting the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and mapping key targets and processes to engage with. We learned early on that to be effective in this influencing work, we needed to supply credible evidence that livestock matter to the interests and issues of development investment institutions. From a large body of high-quality scientific literature, we distilled pro-poor livestock facts, messages and case studies for the Why Livestock Matter website. It showcases a wealth of evidence about the manifold benefits livestock generate for lower-income peoples and countries. In addition, it helps to unite academic and activist communities with ‘actionable intelligence’ and ‘agenda-setting’ livestock-related information.
In addition, the project engaged media with stories, started to form a community of partners, measured perceptions of livestock by different development actors, and began to engage in global conversations at the United Nations and in processes such as the World Economic Forum, the EAT-Lancet dietary guidelines and the Global Landscapes Forum.
GLAD 2: 2019–2022
In GLAD’s second phase, we expanded this evidence base and began testing ways to better target and engage national and global decision-makers and shapers. We developed an engagement framework combining four approaches (see diagram above). The first approach provided the foundation of evidence around key themes. Second, the evidence was re-packaged to suit the needs of key stakeholder groups. In this phase, time was spent segmenting and understanding different audiences. The third approach sought to inform and influence global and national events and processes that could profit most from our engagement, evidence, communications and partnerships. The final approach centred on a network of allies championing sustainable livestock development.
In this phase, we learned to work more strategically. We reduced the number of topics we were tackling, adopted more proactive than reactive work, and became more intentional in our engagements and influencing work. Second, we learned to better link global and national processes around priority topics. Third, we focused more on building partnerships with actors beyond ILRI’s traditional circles in the livestock sector so we could influence, for example, global nutritional agendas. In this work, we realised the importance of engaging influential individuals who, while not considering themselves ‘livestock champions’, are aware of livestock’s positive contributions to the development and can help bridge sectoral silos.
Some highlights from this phase included:
- Campaigns targeting major global discourses. These included ‘Food Choice Is a Privilege’, a campaign conducted during the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit and promoting the need to increase access by the poor to meat, milk and eggs; ‘One Crisis, Shared Solutions’, a campaign at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference promoting livestock adaptations to climate change; and ‘The Cow in the Room’ a campaign and event at the 2022 African Green Revolution Forum arguing that development agencies must stop ignoring the livestock sector and should increase their investments in the multi-functional roles livestock play in Africa’s sustainable development.
- Greater country engagement linking national and global initiatives. This work included helping to link optimal food system pathways of developing countries such as Ethiopia to the UN Food Systems Summit agenda and providing national climate change negotiators in Africa with more reliable evidence of livestock-generated greenhouse gas emissions with which to inform their ‘nationally determined contribution’ submissions to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
- Creating a new strategic partnership with the Global Landscapes Forum. ILRI became a charter member in 2020, and since then, GLAD’s engagement with GLF has ensured that rangeland ecosystems and restoration discussions are an integral part of GLF high-level meetings and discussions.
- A series of briefs published on the Why Livestock Matter site in 2022 spelling out prime livestock investment opportunities to put ‘One Health’ work in action in low- and middle-income countries, thereby reducing the threat of future pandemics such as Covid-19, caused by disease pathogens jumping from animals to people; 7 key focus areas and 17 practical actions are recommended.
GLAD 3: 2022–2025
This year, in GLAD’s third phase, the project seeks to demonstrate the ways that sustainable and inclusive livestock systems can help the world achieve its sustainable development goals, particularly meeting the development needs of the world’s poorer populations without compromising future well-being.
Specifically, our aim is for investment agencies, governments and other entities to increase the share of their portfolios allocated to sustainable livestock systems and solutions to fully realise the contributions of livestock systems to achieve the sustainable development goals.
This phase is built around the following elements:
- Four critical issues: (i) providing a more nuanced and contextualised understanding of the diversity of livestock peoples, systems and solutions, (ii) ensuring that livestock-derived foods become safe and nutritious components of healthy diets in developing countries, (iii) supporting the central roles livestock play in climate adaptation and resilience, and (iv) enhancing the roles livestock systems can play in sustainable land use and biodiversity protection. We aim to anchor our interventions more deeply in specific issues and themes where evidence and balance are most needed.
- Four intervention approaches: Continuing from before and joining with partners, we pursue four intervention approaches – evidence, communication, brokerage and influencing. ‘Evidence’ will be assembled and synthesised based on the needs of the specific topic. ‘Communication’ will build on previous work where we tested different products and ways to engage. A significant change is our ambition to move from engagement to more intentional ‘brokering’ of solutions. The emphasis on ‘influencing’ will continue to be on more comprehensive and targeted ‘beyond livestock’ processes so they take proper account of the potentials of livestock systems.
- Building engagement in a few countries to link ‘Livestock Master Plans’ and related national agendas to global processes and negotiations. For instance, GLAD is working with partners to provide national negotiators and government partners with evidence on livestock systems to inform their discussions at national and global levels.
- Showcasing sustainable livestock solutions and linking them to investors and decision-makers. This is a change from Phase 2 as the project learned that beyond providing evidence, we also need to show sustainable livestock solutions that can drive investments.
- Leveraging a network of ‘livestock champions’ working for sustainable development to recycle and share compelling evidence and materials in their own engagements and advocacy work.
- Building a stronger and more cohesive alliance of livestock organisations and partners that can work together to broaden and deepen pro-poor livestock narratives and engagements.
- Contribute to evidence, messages, and thought leadership to be made available on the Why Livestock Matter website.
- Offer solutions for consideration in our planned ‘solutions exchange’ events.
- Help shape an emerging narrative around livestock and climate being developed by more than 15 livestock organisations.
- Support coordinated engagement around global events and processes.
- Information on all of these is shared in our Livestock Champions network and discussion group.
- Catch up with our reports and other materials.