Advocacy a "key skill" for physical therapists

Advocacy is a key issue for physical therapists around the world. “The better we do it, the better we serve the communities who need us.”

That was the view of Emma Stokes, associate professor in physiotherapy and a fellow of Trinity College, Ireland, chairing a session on advocacy strategies for individuals and organisations. 

The session centred around a model of advocacy proposed by physiotherapist Jonathon Kruger, General Manager at the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists.
 
Advocacy, he explained, was a planned process for influencing people, to achieve a specific outcome – most obviously, the process of getting decision-makers to make a policy or practice change. But advocacy might also be about changing individuals’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. 
 
There are a variety of strategies that can be pursued to achieve that outcome, he said. However, achieving this influence is unlikely to work unless desired outcomes are decided from the start. “It doesn’t work if you’re not quite clear what you want,” he said. 
 
His model revolves around three components: deciding on a desired outcome, scanning the environment to see what factors might influence a strategy, and devising the strategy.
 
“One size doesn’t fit all,” he said. “Different countries with different problems might require different strategies. What works in Australia might not work elsewhere. But anyone can do it, and it’s a key skill for physical therapists.” An advocacy strategy might involve meetings, media releases, social media, posters or demonstrations. 
 
“Unfortunately decision-makers are unlikely to be swayed on the basis of evidence alone," he said. “Successful advocacy requires clarity of purpose, imagination and a spot of luck.” 
 
Zola Dantile from the University of Pretoria, described how physical therapists in South Africa had adopted advocacy strategies, and had had to learn the importance of starting with an objective. 
 
“That really challenged me, because the outcome is right at the beginning and the strategy is at the end,” she said. “As physical therapists, I think we’re used to doing it the other way round.”