Policy Influencing and Systemic Change – a step by step approach (Kolonja Case) 


Pursuing change drives advocacy, but understanding where to start can be challenging. When faced with a problem, we may believe we know the solutions, yet we navigate within highly complex systems where diverse actors hold varying perspectives and pursue their own agendas. Moreover, some rules and laws govern these environments. While advocacy seeks to bring about change, it is essential to consider a few crucial factors when addressing the problem and driving desired change. This may involve forming or reforming policies and institutional practices, influencing attitudes and opinions among individuals in positions of power, or enhancing the lives of a significant number of people. By recognizing the intricacies of our context and carefully considering our approach, we can effectively steer our advocacy efforts toward meaningful and impactful change. Our Advocacy Toolkit provides different keys to solutions, which we will showcase through a rural development advocacy case study.


Which advocacy method to choose?

Internal and external factors shape advocacy methods. Collaboration with strategic partners is crucial for informed decisions. Obstacles along the direct path may require adaptable approaches like the outer route. Flexibility, clear vision, compelling messaging, credibility, partnerships, and media support enhance advocacy impact. Maintaining curiosity, momentum, and patience contributes to achieving advocacy goals. Let’s explore the Kolonja Story and reflect on advocacy methods!


The Kolonja Story

Kolonja municipality covers 864.06 km2 and has a population of 22,261, with half residing in rural areas. The main family income sources are employment/self-employment (51.5%), economic assistance (11.6%), and pensions (39%). Furthermore, the region faces economic challenges, with higher than national average youth unemployment (53%) and female unemployment (32.5%).

Even though rich in forest, water resources, and medicinal and aromatic plants, Kolonja underutilizes these assets for development. Limited irrigation (40%), low mechanization, and inadequate crop storage hinder agricultural potential, resulting in low productivity. Regardless of having considerable agricultural potential, productivity remains low. Obstacles, such as restricted market access and poor product quality, hinder the cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants. The municipality is eager to bring about positive change. Still, the challenge lies in determining where to start, as they cannot address all issues simultaneously, and no single solution can solve all the problems.


How to know your problem and find a convincing solution?   

Apply ‘But why?’

When the Kolona mayor reached out to the RisiAlbania Project, he expressed concerns about the municipality’s paradoxical situation—abundant natural resources but insufficient income He sought assistance to unlock the untapped potential for agricultural production in the area. Through ongoing inquiries of ‘why?’ the municipality gained deeper insights and eventually discovered that the apparent problem was not the root cause.

As the collaboration with the project progressed, the mayor came to understand the real underlying issue. Now, he knows that the immediate problem is not the real problem.

Know Your Problem, Find a Solution

Once you have identified the main problems, you can then formulate your problem statement and propose a solution that addresses the underlying issues and leads to the resolution of the problem. (what needs to happen for the problem to disappear?). In the Kolonja case.

Context and Power Analysis

But who holds the power to bring about the desired change? As an effective advocate, understanding the political and institutional landscape is crucial.

Begin by mapping all relevant actors, institutions, and processes related to your issue, including the state, private sector, civil society, academia, laws, and regulations. Next, analyze the relationships and interactions between these entities: How do they relate to each other? Who makes the important decisions? How does power work? This is the context and power analysis of the Kolonja case. Pay a second, think about your problem-solution!

Influence and Interest Matrix

Once you gain a deeper understanding of the problem and the influential actors, you can strategically position them in relation to your key concern using the Influence and Interest Matrix. This tool helps identify potential partners and allies who may support your cause and potential opposition. It also helps determine who might not have a strong interest in the issue or be open to engagement. Using this matrix, you can effectively identify and target relevant stakeholders for your advocacy efforts. This is the stakeholder analysis of the Kolonja case:

Action Plan: Which route to take?

Advocacy methods can be broadly categorized into the ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ routes. The insider route involves targeted approaches aimed at decision-makers and key stakeholders through face-to-face meetings and confidential talks, presenting solid evidence, and lobbying behind closed doors. Methods like parliamentary lobbying and smaller roundtable discussions fall under this category. On the other hand, the outsider route focuses on building broad public awareness and pressure to influence decision-makers. This may involve using online petitions, collaborating with mass media, or organizing public protests and rallies. Both approaches are essential in advocacy efforts, depending on the specific goals and target audiences. The Kolonja case routes are described below:

Route A: Locally (a combination of inside with outside route)

Route B: Nationally (inside route)

  •  The municipality forges strategic partnerships with CSOs to support planning and implementation​
  • Municipal staff gets trained in the MAP sector and in data collection
  • A municipal task force is established to gather relevant information on MAP cultivation (soil fertility, labour force, infrastructure etc.)
  • The task force facilitates between farmers and the business community and successfully promotes MAP cultivation in Kolonja​
  • The municipality lobbies national-level state institutions for concrete support​
  • Agricultural Extension Service
  • Ministry of Agriculture​
  • Agency for Compensation

By recognizing the intricacies of the context and carefully considering your approach, we can effectively steer our advocacy efforts toward meaningful and impactful change. Our Advocacy Toolkit provides different keys to solutions, which we showcased through Kolonja Rural Development Project in Aromatic Plants.


Achievements in Kolonja case

Kolonja municipality has achieved significant progress through a series of successful initiatives. The cooperation between the Municipality Council and RisiAlbania has incited investments in organic medicinal and aromatic plants cultivation, transitioning away from wild harvesting practices. Additionally, the approval of a package to attract investors in Agriculture has ignited further growth in the agricultural sector. Additionally, the establishment of the “Green Dossier” task force has been influential in promoting investments.

Furthermore, the Municipality of Kolonja played a key role in facilitating the establishment of a Cluster of medicinal and aromatic plants actors, which serves as a platform for communication between public and private stakeholders. This has resulted in valuable partnerships, with three exporters investing and cooperating with more than 20 farmers through contract farming.

Private investors have also contributed to the region’s development by leasing 40 hectares of land to cultivate medicinal and aromatic plants and hazelnut. Moreover, an important agreement with Albanian Investment Fund has enabled the cultivation of 80 hectares of organic hazelnuts on public agricultural land. The Ministry of Agriculture’s upcoming investments in an irrigation system will positively impact hundreds of farmers by benefiting 400 hectares of agricultural land.

New investments have been a catalyst for creating more than 50 new jobs addressing the unemployment challenges, and fostering economic growth in the municipality. Through public-private partnerships, new investments have been made to enhance the quality standards of medicinal and aromatic plants cultivation, including drying systems.


Interested to learn more about this success story? Look at resources and meet protagonists!

This article expands on the RisiAlbania Training Module: Foster Rural Development through Strategic Advocacy “Kolonja Case” workshops aimed to support the Albanian School of Public Administration. The Regional Advocacy Network would like to thank Gramos Osmani and Stephan Joss (Risi Albania) and Erion Isai (mayor of Kolonja Municipality)  who shared his valuable experience with us.

Interested in learning more about the advocacy network? Contact us at AdvocacyWesternBalkans @helvetas.org.