Understanding Policy

Youth participants pose for a photo outside a community library
Participants of the Youth Advocacy Guide Workshop take a celebratory photo outside Centre Eulis in Côte d’Ivoire

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:

A group of young people sit together and discuss issues facing them
Children make shapes out of newspapers as part of a self-expression exercise at Asiphilisane Camp for HIV-positive children, in the countryside some 40 km from Pretoria, South Africa.
  • 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?


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.


Now that you know what a policy is, and how to find them - have a look at how to engage with policy.


Interested in doing advocacy? Read more about how you can champion change through advocacy here! And make sure to check out our full Youth Advocacy Guide.