TPA: The art of communicating evidence to targeted audiences and advocating for policy change


FANRPAN through the National Nodes in the over 16 Member States has launched a Policy Advocacy Mechanism called Theatre for Policy Advocacy as means to advocate for promoting Agricultural Initiatives that build Resilience to Climate Change and influence Policy Makers to promote policies that focus on building Resilience towards Climate Change. In Swaziland through its National Node the Coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organisation in Swaziland, (CANGO), FANRPAN hosted the Theatre Policy for Advocacy Drama at Esibayeni Lodge in Matsapha in March 2014. The drama staged was a collaboration between UNISWA, CANGO, Ministry of Agriculture and World Vision Swaziland. Theatre for Policy Advocacy (TPA) is one of the creative tools that FANRPAN has used with great success. TPA is a form of participatory theatre that encourages creativeness and allows for local people’s participation in developing solutions to their problems. TPA performances are structured around issues that are pertinent to a particular local people (i.e. community) and its unique problems. A script is written and the scenes are played out to sensitize the community to the inherent problems. This is followed by a series of facilitated dialogues among various stakeholders.

TPA at community level- empowering the local voice

FANRPAN started the TPA journey at community level in Malawi and Mozambique in 2010. TPA was successfully used in the implementation of the Women Accessing Realigned Markets (WARM) project as a tool to mobilize and strengthen the ability of women farmers to articulate their challenges in a medium that allowed them to engage their communities, service providers and policy makers in generating solutions to overcome their challenges that they face. The plays act as mirror to community problems and enable the people to engage with decision makers at different levels. This communication model brings together practical knowledge gained from the community with the technical knowledge of specialists, thus bridging a gap that often hinders the development of effective and workable solutions. It uses people from the community to communicate about the issues and empowers them to become agents for social change.

Expanding the scope of TPA- unpacking the complexity of Climate change

Climate change is real and addressing the challenges requires holistic approaches and concerted efforts. However, with the complexity of climate change issues and the politically charged policy environments, there is an increasing pressure for individuals and organizations to find approaches that promote the use of research evidence must hinge on innovative ways of breaking the divide among decision makers and create platforms for continuous learning, trust building, creativity that navigates power and political dynamics and mobilizes moral authority. FANRPAN has continued to innovate, further develop and expand its scope address issues related to climate change, climate smart agriculture (CSA) and household vulnerabilities. The generated outputs from these CSA projects has been packaged in the form of script and disseminated through TPA.

Taking TPA to regional platforms

In 2013, FANRPAN introduced TPA to delegates of the Annual High Level Food Security Policy Dialogue which was held in Maseru, Lesotho (1-5 September) under the theme: Climate Smart Agriculture. Working across multi-disciplinary boundaries, students from the drama department of the National University of Lesotho together were intensively trained on TPA and CSA and jointly performed with FANRPAN. TPA combined with a formal presentation and a video documentary was used to disseminate the CSA outputs on the household vulnerability and cost benefit analysis of the Maphutseng area in Lesotho. The performance was followed by focus group dialogue among farmers, policy makers, researches, NGOs and Private sectors. The results were localized to address specific agriculture and climate change challenges in Lesotho. This was meant to demonstrate the importance of dialogue in development processes. The use of TPA has proven to create a breakthrough in bringing the gap between science and policy, and stimulate debate among various stakeholders such as famers, Non- governmental organisations (NGOs) & civil society organisations (CSO), researchers, Policy makers, and Private sector.

Institutionalizing TPA in national universities

FANRPAN’s long term vision is to see this valuable approach to policy advocacy institutionalized within local universities structures. As a result, FANRPAN is engaging with Theatre and Arts department in local universities in order to explore possibilities and opportunities for joint ventures. Between August 2013 and May 2014 a total of 24 students and two lecturers have been trained on TPA and have been supported to stage the performance in Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. So far at total of

  • In Lesotho: As indicated before 7 students and 1 lecturer from the NUL were trained and performed TPA during the FANRPAN high level policy dialogue in September, 2013.
  • In Swaziland: In February/ March 2014, FANRPAN took TPA to Swaziland. In collaboration with the Department of Humanities and Department of Agriculture FANRPAN trained 8 students on CSA and TPA. The TPA performance convened FANRPAN in partnership with CANGO, University of Swaziland (UNISWA) and World Vision was staged on the 12th March, 2014 attended by a total of 100 from different institutions. On the 10 April, 2014 World vision- Lesotho scale out the TPA to Mpolonjeni community in Swaziland, where the household vulnerability studies were conducted.
  • In Zimbabwe: FANRPAN is working in collaboration with The University of Zimbabwe (UZ) Theatre Arts Department to integrate TPA into the training program. UZ has a long tradition of using theatre as a social development tool. However, its approach over the years has been limited to the empowerment of grassroots communities and giving them voice and agency over issues that affect them. UZ has since made TPA as a component of the Development Communication Course offered to second years Applied Theatre and Development Communication majors has been necessitated by the need to introduce policy advocacy as a core skill for development communication. Another 8 group of students were trained on CSA and TPA, and the performance was staged on the 30th April, 2014.
  • In Zambia: FANRPAN worked with the University of Zambia Drama Society (UNZADRAMS) where 8 students were trained on TPA and performed during the Climate Smart Agriculture National Dialogue held on the 11th July, 2014 at Pamodzi Hotel in Lusaka.
  • In Mozambique: FANRPAN will be spreading the TPA wings to Mozambique and Zambia during the course of 2014.

Key lessons

The use of TPA takes everybody out of their comfort zone. It enables people to see problems through the complexity lens outside their traditional mandates and stimulates quests for collective efforts in addressing the challenges. This is why FANRPAN has recognized and given strong and recurring impetus to engagement platforms for dialogue and advocacy to take forward given policy messages, equip and fortify local student actors as messengers with TPA

  • Community entry and mobilization - at community level, TPA performances are very well attended and it is easy to secure the community’s buy-in for developing their own theatrical performance. The performance helps to directly bring out in the open some critical issues that would not be easily raised under normally circumstance with creating conflict. TPA therefore, helps to depoliticize issues, thus helping people to engage in fruitful debates without defensiveness. It helps create an opportunity for the marginalised groups to raise the voice in a non-intimidating and politicised manner.
  • Local voices and champions - It is envisaged that the trained local talent and champions then become a permanent community voice advocating for desired change. They communicate the change messages through a medium that is culturally appropriate and familiar to them. They also learn how to access and incorporate broader policy data to add weight to their arguments and how to communicate their needs in a language that makes sense to relevant decision-makers.
  • Engagement of researchers and development experts - selected members from the community will then work with the theatre company and policy researchers to develop a script that captures key issues with regard to an identified challenge. The engagement of policy researchers is vital at this point—they provide the “expert” knowledge and broader policy framework to help craft the main messages of the performance; at the same time, they gain community knowledge, i.e. practical field knowledge that only the villagers and farmers have, and which is not normally revealed to outside researchers.
  • Building local capacity to communicate key messages through theatre - The articulation of identified challenges into a compelling theatre script is undertaken jointly by the subject experts, the trained local talent and researchers/policy analysts and the development experts. Building on local communities’ tradition of communication through dance, song and theatre, the professional group and researchers are equipped with the skills to package and tell the stories in the manner that is understood by diverse audience.
  • Engagement platforms - The theatrical performance provides an excellent platform and a conducive environment for researchers and policy analysts to engage in dialogue with different community groups. Following the performance, which serves as an ice-breaker and sensitizer, facilitated discussions is conducted to develop solutions to the identified challenges.