June 22, 2017

Using Improv to Teach Advocacy: RTC:Rural Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit now available

Advocacy Toolkit Facilitator Guide coverRTC:Rural is excited to release the Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit, a new set of resources for Centers for Independent Living (CILs) and others to facilitate workshops to develop the advocacy skills of emerging Independent Living leaders and youth with disabilities.

The Toolkit is a collaboration between BASE, an affiliate of Summit Independent Living in Missoula, MT, the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL), and RTC:Rural staff, and was developed in response to the needs and interests of CILs and other stakeholders.

The Toolkit is available free of charge on the RTC:Rural website.

“We are so excited that we can help get this toolkit in the hands of CILs and others,” said Mary Olson, Director of Training and Technical Assistance for APRIL. “The Independent Living network has been craving tools that can be used with young adults with disabilities. Every time I talk with a CIL, they ask for exactly what this toolkit is offering. With more and more mandates for Independent Living without more funding, I see this tool being used in almost every CIL in the country as a much needed resource.”

“What makes this toolkit unique is its use of improv to teach advocacy skills,” said Lauren Smith, Knowledge Translation Associate at RTC:Rural who coordinated production of the Toolkit. Improv can help hone communication and public speaking skills, stimulate fast thinking, and encourage engagement with ideas, all skills that are important for effective advocacy. By providing a safe space among peers and trusted facilitators, this workshop introduces the concepts of group and self-advocacy and provides participants with the opportunity to explore their voices, build confidence, and identify personal strengths they can use to achieve their goals. Specifically, the Toolkit aims to develop persuasive writing and personal testimony advocacy skills.

Michael Beers, John Howard, and Tyler Nielson of BASE developed and honed the improv activities included in the toolkit, and are featured in the demonstration videos.  “Life is inherently improv,” said Beers, Youth Transitions Coordinator at Summit Independent Living Center and professional comedian. “When you go into a meeting or to give testimony to advocate, you’re not given a script of who will say what, and this is how you respond. Nor is it anarchy, where you have no idea what to expect. But you are given a loose set of instructions, and your ability to be successful is based on keeping the conversation going forward within those parameters. And that’s basically improv.”

A group of people participate in the Tone Symphony improv game.

A group of people participate in the Tone Symphony improv game at the BASEment Improv Workshop.

The Toolkit includes a facilitator guide, worksheets, and PowerPoint slides to guide facilitators through conducting the workshop. The workshop is designed to be conducted as three 2-hour sessions or modified for different lengths of time as needed. Other materials include handouts with persuasive writing and personal testimony tips, as well as two updated How-To Guides: Writing Effective Letters to Decision Makers and Creating Your Personal Testimony to Influence Policy Change. These guides and handouts can be used as stand-alone products, or to supplement a workshop.

The Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit includes materials updated and adapted from previous products developed by RTC:Rural and partners at the University of Kansas Research and Training Center on Independent Living, and are influenced by RTC:Rural’s successful Living Well with a Disability program.

For more information about the Toolkit and to download the materials, visit the Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit page on the RTC:Rural website.