Understanding and Engaging with Policies

Two advocates speaking to each other

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

If you can change the fundamental principles that guide decisions, you have a better chance of achieving your goal and sustaining it into the future. Because of this, advocacy always links back to policy 

Most institutions or organisations have policies that provide a guide for how to make decisions. At the highest level, there is global policy, an agreement between countries on how to engage in certain areas, like trade or the environment. There are also national policies that outline a country’s objectives and the plans it has in place to achieve those. There are company policies on how to behave in a work environment, and there are school policies, outlining what behaviour is appropriate for a school.

Remember that youth-focused policies are imperative to realising a sustainable future and we need to equip ourselves with skills, so we can engage with these policies.

Many policies may already exist on your issue or cause on a local, national, regional, or even global level. Finding and reading these policies might be a challenge, but your actions will be far more effective if you do this.

Remember, not every advocacy project is linked to a policy. Your action could focus on changing attitudes towards a specific issue, and policy may not be the most effective object of your actions. But for greater change, policy will always play at least some role.  

Before you start reading, you need to identify what policy or policies you are looking for and how to access these documents.

Try to determine the following:

  • What policy aligns with my issue or cause?
  • At local or national level, which department or ministry is responsible for the issue I am advocating for?
  • If you are looking for policies at the international or regional level, which section of the organisation deals with the issue I am advocating for?
  • Are these documents accessible on the internet?
  • Are these documents accessible in our schools, communities, local government offices, district offices?
A city skyline

Policies are public documents that should be easily available. But you may find it difficult to track them down – consider turning these into advocacy goals. For example, if you are trying to access a national policy on health, but your country hasn’t made the document available online, you could advocate that your government upload all policy documents online, for public access.

A sticky note with text on it


Reading and making comments on a policy may seem scary, but you, as a young person, have a voice and should be allowed to engage with any policy that affects your life.

Being able to read, understand and comment on policy is an important skill to develop, and you shouldn’t be discouraged if you find policy participation difficult. The more you do it the better you will become at it.

Let’s be honest, policy documents can be boring or difficult to read. Often they are both.

Start by reading through the document to determine if the policy aligns with your issue. You may need to read the document several times or ask for help to fully grasp the content. If you notice there are gaps in the document, or the policy does not effectively speak to the needs of the community, start making notes on how this can be improved. For example, if the policy document does not mention youth as a stakeholder, or it discriminates against marginalised groups, these are clear areas that need to be amended. 


Here are some useful steps:

A screenshot of the Youth Advocacy Guide giving tips on how to read a policy document document


Time to comment on some policy documents!


Begin by finding out how the policy was created and what the rules say about making changes to it. Is there a way for young people to make comments on the policy? If the process is not open, or if there is no process, it is not the end of the road. You could partner with other young people and organisations to call for the consultative process to be open or created for civil society and youth participation. You might also want to consider advocating for a child or youth-friendly version of an important policy.

It might seem obvious, but before commenting, make sure you have read the whole document. It is easy to spend lots of time commenting on one section, only to find that your points are addressed in another section later on. Try to read other policy documents, laws, acts etc, that are referenced in the document you are reading. Knowing about other connected policies will help you be aware of potential overlaps or duplication of resources. Finally, many policies are connected to international agreements that your country made at a global level, and it will make understanding your local policies easier if you also have knowledge of these agreements.



At this point you’re probably thinking, ‘How am I expected to do all of this?’


Take a deep breath and take it one step at a time. Changing the world doesn’t happen overnight.

A young man thinking with a question mark thought bubble

If you are ready, here are a few ways to approach commenting on a policy document:

  • General comments - Whether you write a few sentences or a page, try to provide your overall views on the document. You can provide personal comments, but you should also try to refer to your fact-finding research to help you include a wider perspective. General comments can also offer new ideas and solutions, which are not already in the policy. 
  • Specific comments - If you feel comfortable moving beyond general comments, you can then focus on specific sections of the policy document that are relevant to you and your cause, identifying the gaps and weaknesses and offering ways in which the sections may be strengthened.
  • Changes to the language - The language should be committal and progressive. It should inspire action and give timelines. Language should also be simple, inclusive, and non-discriminatory. Editing the language of a policy is a way to strengthen the document and make it more impactful.

Generally, the more specific you are, the more useful your comments will be. Make notes of all the thoughts you have while reading, and the comments you make on the policy document. You will need these when you enter spaces where you can voice your opinions. 

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 let's have a look at how to represent your issue at a conference or meeting!


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!