Research in Progress: Construction and validation of new scales for advocacy and activism

September 10, 2019

Brooke W. McKeever, Robert McKeever, Minhee Choi

By Brooke W. McKeever, Robert McKeever, Minhee Choi, University of South Carolina

Advocacy and activism play significant roles in the success of many types of organizations, and the study of these concepts has gained increased prominence within communications and public relations research.

While advocacy and activism have been defined and examined by focusing on strategic communication strategies from advocacy groups and nonprofit organizations, more recent studies have explored the two concepts from many sides (e.g., by looking at corporate advocacy or activism, individuals’ involvement in social movements, and digital activism).

Despite the growth of research focusing on advocacy and activism, they both have been inconsistently defined and measured—and used interchangeably.

The public has been increasingly active in various social justice issues. The use of social media, polarized U.S. and global politics, and various policy debates have led many members of the public to raise their voices and participate in advocacy efforts. With the rise of citizen activism, organizations’ efforts (including corporate, nonprofit, and political or government entities) related to advocacy and activism have become more strategic. These organizational efforts typically aim for certain outcomes (e.g., policy change, raising awareness, promoting positive image, social system change). However, we still seem to lack specific definitions, identifiable behaviors and real understanding of the motivations for participating in such activities.

In the current data-driven environment, professional communicators are expected to do their work based on in-depth research, quantified data and clear evidence. Measuring audience advocacy and activism may help practitioners identify, segment and target key publics. It may also help identify best practices from an organizational standpoint. In doing so, organizations can be more efficient with the resources they have if they understand the characteristics of key publics and focus their communication efforts accordingly.

Although scholars in various disciplines (politics, sociology, public health) have examined activism and advocacy, none of these scales provide standard indicators to measure the dimensions of activism and advocacy in strategic communication or public relations. While these scales have focused on behavioral perspectives and targeted certain populations, our project will consider both behavioral and psychometric properties targeting a general population in the context of strategic communication.

Through this development project, we hope that the scales produced will help expand the scope of advocacy and activism literature in strategic communication, and that the research may be useful for scholars and students in nonprofit, corporate, health and political communication. Practically, we hope that this scale will be useful for strategic communication research, planning and implementation in the field.

With our Page/Johnson Legacy Scholar grant, we are excited to provide much needed clarity to the way advocacy and activism are defined and measured using scale development methods. We will begin by distilling the theoretical components of each of these concepts from reviewing the extant literature and through expert feedback provided by practitioners and other scholars.

This information will be used to develop measurement models for advocacy and activism that will be empirically tested and validated using data collected through two surveys. The results of these efforts will offer practical and conceptually valid measurement tools for scholars, students, and practitioners. We are thankful to The Page Center for this grant, and we look forward to sharing the results of our research.

For further information on this study, please email Brooke W. McKeever at, Robert McKeever at, or Minhee Choi at Results from the study will be available next year. This project is supported by a Page/Johnson Legacy Scholar Grant from the Arthur W. Page Center