Advocacy Guidelines

Guidelines for Making Policy Statements

Advocacy Guidelines for the American Fisheries Society

Credit: American Fisheries Society

Presented below is the final approved [by the American Fisheries Society (AFS) Governing Board, 26 August 1996] revision of guidance for Society advocacy that will replace Chapter 9, Section V, of the American Fisheries Society Procedural Manual published in 1992.

Following the 1993 AFS annual meeting then-President Raymond Hubley appointed an Advocacy Task Force chaired by Richard Gregory to review Society policy and procedures and recommend needed revisions. The group met in January 1994 and agreed on procedural revisions (which subsequently were approved by the Executive Committee [now called Governing Board] in March 1995, subject to final editing, for inclusion in the AFS Procedural Manual) but failed to achieve consensus on a policy.

Subsequently, a policy was proposed by a task force member and forwarded by the chair to the Resource Policy Committee for review and recommendation to the Executive Committee. This policy was considered by the Executive Committee at the 1995 annual meeting and approved for publication in Fisheries for member comment.

Following publication in the February 1996 issue, the Governing Board again considered the policy and, after concluding it had been displayed incorrectly, President Paul J. Wingate directed it be republished for member comment with a better explanation. It appeared in the May 1996 issue, and comments were received by Executive Director Paul Brouha until shortly before the annual meeting, when they were forwarded to Wingate.

Wingate summarized member comments on the published draft policy for the Governing Board, which did not approve it and instead directed that these procedures be published in Fisheries with the proposed policy statement removed.

It is presented below with the existing Society policy that governs subunit activities. IV. Guidelines for AFS Advocacy Activities Scientific information is a key asset that the Society shares with the public and with people who make or implement natural resource policy. When such information is relevant to a proposed action that may harm or benefit an aquatic resource, AFS members have an obligation to make it available to those concerned.

This section, prepared by the 1993-1995 Task Force on Advocacy, provides guidance to AFS members who propose or take advocacy positions on behalf of the Society or its subunits. The guidelines that follow were designed to ensure

  • that the Society's external advocacy will be ethically and professionally sound;
  • that advocacy will not degrade the Society's reputation as the most reliable source of scientific information on aquatic resources;
  • that fisheries-related scientific information will be used appropriately when members address aquatic resource issues; and
  • that AFS advocacy positions will be widely supported within the Society because they will be technically correct, respectful of alternative views, and consistent with AFS policies and the Code of Practices. Members and subunits planning to influence an issue external to the Society and to invoke the credibility of the AFS or its members shall adhere to the Society's policy, which states

A subunit may hold meetings, sponsor symposia, disseminate information, adopt resolutions, and engage in other activities that advance Society objectives and conform to the Society's Constitution, Bylaws, Rules, and policies. Actions and resolutions of a subunit shall be identified only with that subunit unless formally adopted by the Society or another subunit." (AFS Constitution, Article IV, #5).

A. What is Advocacy?

  • Advocacy may be simply defined as arguing for a cause, often on behalf of others. Arguments may be written or expressed orally, and sometimes they must be developed reasonably quickly. Advocacy is on its strongest ground when it is based on a hierarchy of instruments used as official expressions of Society views.
  • The principal instruments are Society policies, general statements of principle about resource topics that explain and justify the Society's perspective or attitude in largely philosophical terms. Policies are reviewed and approved by the membership and have a long life span, perhaps 10-20 years. Position statements are specific stands on specific issues. They are prepared by experts, scientifically documented, and rigorously reviewed. They must be consistent with Society policies, and they are approved by the Society's Governing Board or a subunit executive committee (depending on their level of applicability). Legislative briefing statements are specific stands on specific items of legislation. They are developed and approved like position statements, with which they must be consistent. Resolutions are issue statements that are peer-reviewed by committees and approved by members at an official Society or subunit meeting. They are less analytical than position statements or legislative briefing statements but must be consistent with them (and with policies). Position statements, legislative briefing statements, and resolutions become void when the issues they address become moot. Use of any of these instruments to promote the principles, policies, and positions of the Society may be considered a form of advocacy, especially when it is used to influence public policy.

B. Criteria for Advocacy at the Society Level

  • The following criteria shall be used to determine whether it is appropriate for the Society to advocate an issue, and they provide a checklist of the steps needed to properly arrive at a position. The criteria were developed to ensure, without unnecessary restrictions on advocacy, that a member does not improperly attribute personal views to the Society or one of its subunits. Subunits preparing advocacy or position statements should consider the additional criteria outlined in the subsequent section.
  • The issue is pertinent to the Society's goals and objectives as stated in its Constitution and Bylaws.
  • The importance of the issue warrants the effort of AFS officers, members, and staff to address it, given the existence of other issues. Urgency may be a factor if failure to act will place a resource in jeopardy.
  • The appropriate level of the Society for addressing the issue was considered. Considerations include the geographic limits of the issue and the locations of experts able to prepare an accurate position.
  • Significant membership support for action is evidenced or known, or the reason why members are unaware of the issue is legitimate.
  • Alternative views on the issue and the disposition of the document were considered.
  • A timely strategy and action plan can be executed, and knowledgeable, responsible people have been identified to complete the action.
  • Administrative resources and funds to pursue the action to completion are available or can be secured.
  • Consideration has been given to joint action of the Society with other concerned organizations in order to strengthen the position taken.
  • There is a reasonable potential for the Society to make a difference.

C. Guidelines for Subunits on Advocacy Positions

Subunits should adopt internal procedures to manage the development of their advocacy positions. Because involvement in advocacy is important to the Society, each subunit is strongly urged to amend its bylaws to adopt, by reference, the Society's procedures or alternative procedures consistent with these. The internal procedures should address the criteria used to select issues and provide sufficient guidelines for quality control, such as peer review, of written products that advocate a position or action. Subunits should consult Society headquarters to develop a mechanism for relaying and promoting their policies and positions to all concerned parties.

The following steps provide a good procedure for developing subunit advocacy positions:

  • A member or committee raises a formal concern or issue.
  • The subunit's executive or other committee reviews the issue based on the following questions:
    • Is the issue pertinent to the subunit's goals?
    • Will the subunit's involvement make a difference?
    • Do (or will) subunit members support the position?
    • Does the subunit have adequate expertise and technical information to develop a position? (e) Have alternative views been considered?
    • Is the urgency of the issue so great that the officers or executive committee would have to act without full membership approval?
    • Would the subunit be willing, and does it have the resources, to follow through?
    • Do geographic boundaries and other aspects of the issue make subunit involvement appropriate? Should other subunits or entities be involved?
    • Do risks outweigh the potential benefits of taking action?
  • When the subunit determines that the issue is appropriate for action, it
    • subjects the issue to further development if necessary,
    • solicits an independent review (necessary for all but the most minor issues; the greater the sensitivity and importance of the issue, the more intensive the review should be), and
    • takes the recommended action and so notifies AFS headquarters.
  • The actions taken by the subunit may include (but are not necessarily limited to)
    • sending a letter with a request for action or for comments;
    • drafting and sending a resolution;
    • preparing a position paper, legislative briefing paper, or policy paper (copied to Society headquarters)
    • referring the issue to a Division or the Society with recommendations;
    • recommending an educational forum;
    • taking no action but providing supporting rationale to proponents; and
    • undertaking litigation - but only as a last resort after it is determined that failure to litigate will have serious consequences, after the approval and financial support of the membership have been obtained, and after the assistance of experienced natural resource litigators has been secured.

D. Accountability and Oversight

The Society must be assured that when members advocate their own interests or personal opinions, they clearly disassociate themselves from the AFS. Members must not leave the impression that personal views represent the Society or a subunit. When a position is identified with the Society or subunit, some level of review is essential to ensure quality control and membership concurrence with the position expressed. However, this must be balanced with the equally valid concern that an overly lengthy or structured review process interferes with the Society's ability to act or respond quickly when necessary.

The following guidelines address the accountability for and oversight of advocacy activities:

  • New subunit leaders should attend the orientation and training that is provided for emerging leaders at annual meetings of the Society, AFS Divisions, and (when possible) Chapters, and Sections. Training sessions include a section on the sensitivity, policies, and oversight associated with advocacy.
  • When it develops, reviews, and promulgates an advocacy position, each subunit must conform to the Society's established position on the subject and to the overall policy on advocacy, as stated at the beginning of this chapter. Each subunit should incorporate in its bylaws a simple statement that ensures its conformance with Society guidelines on advocacy.
  • When possible, the subunit's executive committee should review the relevance and urgency of the proposed advocacy position or action, appropriateness of a response by the subunit, general membership support, minority views, and resources and potential for achieving the desired effect.
  • In an emergency, when lack of action may result in serious harm to a resource, the AFS president and other officers, including the executive director, should be consulted. With their concurrence, the executive director or a subunit member should forward the best professional opinion or position to appropriate officials. Prior consultation with Society experts or concerned subunits should be conducted by whatever means possible. If time permits, membership approval should also be obtained.
  • Except for emergency resolutions, subunit resolutions supporting or advocating a position must undergo a rigorous review by an appropriate number of independent experts knowledgeable on the subject. Subunits advancing resolutions are encouraged to follow the guidance provided in Section IV of this manual. Resolutions submitted by subunits for adoption by the Society at its annual meeting will be considered by the AFS Resolutions Committee, which may solicit additional independent reviews.
  • For each formal position taken, the organizational sponsor - Society, Division, Section, or Chapter - should be clearly identified so there is no confusion as to the position's source.

E. Authorized Representation

The AFS and its subunits must have mechanisms to ensure that their letterheads, logos, and other identifiers are used for advocacy purposes only as specifically authorized pursuant to the Society's established positions and its advocacy policies and procedures. It is emphasized again that when members present a Society or subunit position, they must state the position accurately, identify the AFS organizational unit responsible for it, and refrain from embellishing it with personal opinion unless the opinion is identified as such. All of the foregoing is to be guided by the AFS Code of Practices.

F. Education and Outreach


The Society's advocacy policies and procedures must be conveyed to newly elected officers and representatives at all AFS organizational levels. Newer members entering leadership positions often lack exposure or sensitivity to the Society's concerns about advocacy of issues. Longtime members may find advocacy a new experience in the AFS context, even though many other professional societies have assumed advocacy roles for many years. For these and other new leaders, the Society has and continually develops training and information programs that foster awareness of and adherence to established advocacy protocols.

Training and Information

Society instructors offer leadership orientation each year at the AFS annual meeting, at annual Division meetings, and at as many Chapter and Section meetings as opportunities permit. This instruction covers advocacy protocols as well as introductions to AFS policies, the Society's Code of Practices, and Robert's Rules of Order. It will cover any training materials and documents that have been developed by the Society and its subunits as well as manuals, videos, or other media that record a relevant subunit's prior or current advocacy positions or roles. All members, and subunit officers in particular, are encouraged to attend any such orientation available to them.

Subunit leaders and developing leaders should stay abreast of Society and subunit advocacy activities as published in Fisheries, subunit newsletters, and other Society and subunit communications. They are expected to become familiar with the legal ramifications, risks, and liabilities pertaining to their professional activities as representatives of their Society and its subunits. Before engaging in any advocacy action on behalf of the Society or a subunit, members should be thoroughly familiar with these guidelines and with all related material in this manual. To help members and officers know about advocacy positions at all levels in the Society, a central registry of AFS positions will be established on an electronic information server at Society headquarters. Posted advisories will include the posting date, authorizing subunit, effective date, and the names and addresses of officials authorized by the Society or subunit to interpret the advisory.

Members and officers representing policies and positions of the Society or its subunits are expected to present themselves, their subunits, and their positions in accordance with the highest standards of professionalism, including but not limited to matters of dress, language, demeanor, and sensitivity to the rights and opinions of others. Subunits are encouraged to institute multiyear progressions for elected officers or multiyear presidencies to expand corporate memory.