Advocacy Terms and Concepts

Young advocates discussing

Think of youth participation as a giant umbrella that covers many ways and means of being involved. All forms of advocacy done by young people could be defined as youth participation, but not all forms of youth participation could be defined as advocacy.

Confused? Let’s break it down.

Youth participation refers to how young people can be involved in processes, institutions and decisions that affect their lives – and this can be active or passive.

Active youth participation means you are engaging or are ready to engage. Passive youth participation means you are willing to allow whatever happens to happen, and you are not changing or controlling the situation.

For example, you could participate passively by listening to someone speak at an event, but you have no intention of getting involved in the issue or making any changes in your life. By contrast, you could participate actively by researching a topic, finding actions you could take and raising awareness with the goal of changing the behaviour of others. Both have a time and place. 

Learn to distinguish between the two types and how they fit into your unique situation, in terms of your own advocacy, how you want others to be involved, and how decision-makers offer to engage with you. 

Different levels of youth advocacy also exist, ranging from non-participation to full participation.


Almost 30 years ago, Roger Hart developed a model to describe the different forms of youth participation. He argued that participation was the process of sharing decisions that affect people’s lives and the communities they live in. He believed that participation is the fundamental right of citizenship and an integral part of democracy.

Young advocates

At the centre of Hart’s definition is decision-making. He describes participation as a ladder, with levels of youth involvement ranging from non-participation to full participation. This ladder is a useful way at looking at participation – it can help you to reflect on what your engagement is with an issue and what you want your participation to be like.  

The ladder has eight steps.

The first three steps represent non-participation, where young people have no real understanding of the issues but are engaged with in a very basic way to show they were involved. The next five steps represent genuine participation, where young people participate meaningfully by thoroughly understanding the issue and being directly involved in the decision-making process. The final step represents the highest level of participation, where young people design and manage their own initiatives and share these decisions with adults. This represents a level of empowerment where young people are using their full capacity to engage meaningfully in decision-making about important issues.

Here are a few more advocacy terms and concepts that you might come across during your advocacy journey
A young activist


A system and/or process to determine whether decision makers or other powerful people are keeping their commitments to people and communities, and if they are not, to determine what action needs to be taken. 



The deliberate process, based on demonstrated evidence, to directly and indirectly influence decision makers, stakeholders, and relevant audiences to support and implement actions that contribute to the realization of rights. Advocacy can include a range of activities such as organizing, lobbying, marching, and campaigning.  



Allies are the people and organizations that will support your issue and your plan. Examples include student groups, community organizations and leaders, bloggers, religious leaders, politicians––anyone who can help you build and use power. Unexpected allies are particularly helpful because they can open the minds of potential supporters and show how the entire community––not just the core constituents––will benefit. Source 



The process of mobilizing the public around the advocacy issue, to change perceptions, and build support to influence decision-makers and stakeholders. Source 


Civic Engagement (Young People)  

Civic engagement is when young people undertake initiatives to address issues that impact their lives and the lives of others around them (e.g., through providing services to peers, organizing an awareness campaign, and/or advocating for policy change). Civic engagement does not rely on adults opening up space/mechanism(s).   


Intergenerational Dialogue  

A dialogue that brings together people of different ages to share their experiences and ideas.  



A message is a core idea which you want people to remember, to take action on, and to tell others. 



Your network is made up of the people you know – friends, family, colleagues, peers – as well as the people they know (your extended network). Networking sounds intimidating, but it can be as simple as initiating and maintaining contact with individuals and organizations. Your network can support your advocacy by spreading your message, helping with their time or expertise, or by connecting you to others who support your issue.  



Organizing is the process of building power as a group and using this power to create positive change in people’s lives. Source 


Participation (Young People) 

Participation is when young people collaborate with adult decision makers to share their views and inputs (e.g. via attending conferences and workshops, taking part in policy development, engaging in peace processes, participating in local governance committees, partaking in working groups, etc.). Participation relies on adults opening up space/mechanism(s) which young people can join or be part of. Source 



A policy is a set of principles, ideas or plans that guide decisions to achieve a certain outcome. Policies are important because they determine how we behave and affect how we experience our everyday lives.  


Strategy (for Advocacy) 

A strategy can be defined as the plan or method of building enough power to influence a decision maker to give you what you want. Source 

Advocacy is about getting someone to do something. Strategy is about how you get them to do it. Strategy is about the big picture. Source 



A stakeholder is any person, group, organization, government department, company or institution that has interest in a particular issue or cause.  



A clear idea of the ‘what’ you want to see as a result of your advocacy. For example, your vision may be to have young people be full members of a community group; to get supplies for all schoolchildren in your neighbourhood; or to have a certain policy passed by government.


The Youth Advocacy Guide [ENG] cover page

Did you know the UNICEF Youth Advocacy Guide has been updated?

Check out the newly adapted global version available in EnglishFrench and Spanish.

[Coming soon in Arabic and Portuguese!]


You can also host your own advocacy training! Download the training guide and collaborative workspace here.

Now that you know more of the key terms and concepts, try finding an issue you are passionate about.


Interested in doing advocacy? Read more about how you can champion change through advocacy here!

Also have a look at the Youth Advocacy Resources Hub for more tips, tricks and tools to help you along your advocacy journey!