Interest Groups & Advocacy

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 333–355 | Cite as

When do refugees matter? The importance of issue salience for digital advocacy organizations

  • Nina HallEmail author
Original Article


Digital advocacy organizations are permanent institutions which can rapidly mobilize people online and offline. Scholars are beginning to examine these organizations’ distinctive mode of advocacy within national contexts. However, we know relatively little about how these organizations select their campaigns, and when they successfully mobilize the public on international issues. This is important as most advocacy targets national decision-makers, rather than international institutions. This article asks: how do digital advocacy organizations select the issues they campaign on? It examines refugee campaigns across seven organizations in seven different countries (Australia, Austria, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK, and the USA) between late 2015 and 2017. It draws on extensive primary research, including a dozen interviews with digital activists, journalists, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). It finds that digital advocacy organizations choose campaigns based on issuesalience, whereas traditional NGOs are driven by issue-expertise. Professional staff select campaigns in NGOs, whereas in digital advocacy organizations campaign decision-making is member-driven. Overall, this paper calls for International Relations (IR) and interest group scholars to examine campaign selection and decision-making in all advocacy organizations.


Digital advocacy Mobilizing Advocacy organizations NGOs Refugees 



The author would like to thank the participants of the Stockholm workshop on Advocacy Groups in Global Governance: Global and Domestic Opportunity Structures, in particular Kirsten Lucas, Elizabeth Bloodgood, and Lisa Dellmuth. A special thanks to Rebecca John for her excellent research assistance and feedback on this article.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International RelationsJohns Hopkins SAISBolognaItaly

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