Part 4: Understanding Advocacy

The threats facing historic places can be highly complex, so there is no fail-proof method to play the role of heritage advocate. But here are some of the approaches that often characterize successful campaigns to save a place.

Understanding the Threat Before You Speak Out

Make sure to have all the facts on why the place is endangered:

  • What exact changes are being proposed?
  • Who owns the historic place?
  • What is its current status on such matters as municipal zoning, heritage designation, or physical condition?

When you are ready to go public with your advocacy case, develop your arguments ahead of time and ensure that you identify several key messages.

Think about the advocacy situation from multiple angles and prepare speaking notes. Working to craft these key messages will inform how you speak to elected officials, the media, property owners, and other stakeholders.

While there are overnight miracles, saving a place can sometimes take months or years, depending one the nature of the historic place and the threat(s) it faces.

You may need to obtain independent technical and legal second opinions to counter arguments and/or explore possible funding avenues.

Developing a thorough understanding of the process around the advocacy issue will help make sure that it is being duly followed and monitor whether adequate consultation has taken place. This active research will also provide clear insight into where you can intervene and make your voice heard. Who has decision-making power? Who has influence over them? Start by examining the record of the elected official closest to the situation; this will most often be the municipal councillor, and you should get familiar with their history of involvement in the historic place and their voting record on Council or at municipal committees. Are there other municipal elected officials you should have on your radar and engage, like the mayor or a councillor with a long-held interest in heritage? You should also explore which municipal committees or advisory bodies will have an interest or say in this advocacy issue.

Building Your Credibility and Meeting with Stakeholders

01. Meet with government officials responsible for the file and, if needed, their manager, director, or CEO.

While individual voices are important, there is strength in numbers.

02. Who are your allies that already have a track record and credibility in the community?

A well-regarded not-for-profit organization often has better traction than a well-meaning individual.

03. Understand the role the media can play

Who covers this kind of issue for the local media? What sources have they used in the past on the issue?

04. Harness the power of social media

Who is writing about this kind of issue in your town/city, and who are the influencers working that sphere?