There are three components of independence; structural, financial and psychological. For an advocacy organisation to be robust and effective it needs to be alert to all three.
STRUCTURALLY – an independent advocacy organisation is a separate organisation in its own right. For example, it is registered as a charity or company and has its own Management Committee or Board of Directors. Everyone involved in the organisation recognises that it is separate and different from other organisations and services.
FINANCIALLY– an independent advocacy organisation has its own source of funding that does not cause any conflicts of interest and that does not compromise the work it does.
PSYCHOLOGICALLY – everyone involved in the organisation knows that they are only limited in what they do by the principles of independent advocacy, resources and the law. It is important to recognise that although there may be conflicts of interest present, psychological independence is vital.
Psychological independence, independence of mind, is equally important as structural or financial independence. Some independent agencies are funded in part or wholly by statutory agencies and therefore have a responsibility to account to their funders for how they are spending the money. But independent-minded advocates do not ask the funders for permission to disagree with them. Instead, they challenge agency policy and practice where these are compromising the rights and wellbeing of the people they represent. They do not expect to be popular with everyone, but they do seek to ensure they are respected for the quality and integrity of their work. Effective independent advocacy organisations do not seek confrontation but they maintain the principle of primary accountability to the people they serve. Effective commissioners welcome this spirit of independence, even if it makes their life harder. It is important to remember that independent advocacy highlights opportunities and supports people to be more aware of their choices and rights, enabling them to make more informed decisions and to become more influential as agents of change. Through broadening horizons and widening understanding of options, independent advocacy enables people to educate themselves and be more active citizens. In the context of individual advocacy, people appear to have supportive networks but they might still need independent advocacy because it is separate from all others and only follows the person’s agenda. In independent collective advocacy, space is created for people to come together to educate and support each other and influence the agendas and decisions that shape their lives. Groups are supported to challenge issues such as discrimination, poverty or human rights violations and marginalised groups can gain opportunities for learning.