#CKX6: On Evaluating Advocacy

How do your social change efforts measure up?

Policy advocacy takes place in complex fields with many actors. The time frame is usually years if not decades. At the same time, the context for an advocacy effort can shift in the blink of an eye, an election, an industry downturn, a public tragedy, or a scientific discovery. How, then, can an organization or grant-maker know a strategy is on track?

It isn’t easy. Most of us working in nonprofit advocacy value strategic learning, but we face considerable time and resource constraints. We can also be daunted by the challenge of measuring something as amorphous and vast as systems change. The practice of advocacy evaluation has grown fantastically over the last decade. Here are six of the most inspiring and useful resources I have come across from this ever-widening pool.

1. Tanya Beer – Center for Evaluation Innovation

For an excellent framing of advocacy evaluation, especially for funders, check out this 20-minute talkrecorded at Philanthropic Foundations Canada’s 2015 symposium. Tanya Beer with the the Center for Evaluation Innovation in Washington D.C. is one of the leaders in the field of evaluation in North America. My favourite soundbite from her talk: “I can think of exactly zero examples of policy change in which the timeframe matched a grantmaking timeframe.”



2. Innovation Network survey

Full disclosure: I ♡ surveys. Sometimes survey results confirm my hunches built through nonprofit practice. Sometimes they surprise and debunk myths. This survey of 211 U.S. nonprofits does both. Only one in four organizations, all of whom were engaged to some extent in advocacy, had undertaken evaluation of their advocacy work. Policy influence is rarely the primary focus on a nonprofit; the majority of respondents combine it with other activities such as direct service delivery. The overwhelming reason why advocacy evaluation was thought to be useful was to fuel learning and strategy refinement.


3. The Advocacy Strategy Framework

Because advocacy is usually undertaken at many levels at the same time by many actors, it is helpful to have a roadmap to make sense of all the strategies and their hoped-for results. This diagram is the best one I’ve come across. It is the basis for The Advocacy Strategy Framework, a refreshingly concise guide that assists organizations to create theories of change without forcing linear thinking. The guide helps you identify which medium-term changes your advocacy effort could achieve, vitally important mid-points in the long game of policy change.




 4. The Advocacy Progress Planner

This online tool offered by the Aspen Institute walks you through several steps to build an advocacy strategy and evaluation. Often we already have answers to the types of questions the APP asks (“Inputs: What do you have? What do you need?; Context: What else is going on?”). The genius of this tool is that it organizes our responses into a format that is clear and shareable, as well as revealing what elements we have yet to figure out. APP is free but you need to create a login in order to start making advocacy plan magic.


5. Data gathering methods from Spark Policy Institute

Care for an “intense period debrief”? How about some “champion tracking”? These are some of the evaluation methods developed specifically for a policy change context. Spark Policy Institute has compiled many of the most useful evaluation tools in this resource. They’ve even managed to make them sound fun. When it comes time to figure out how to measure what you want to measure, this is an excellent place to start.


6. What’s your part in the change? Contribution analysis

How do you know your work, or that of a grantee partner, actually played a role in effecting change? In complex fields, few shifts in policy or public opinion can be attributed to just one organization. Contribution analysis is a systemic approach that has been developed to draw plausible lines of causality between an organization’s actions and the results of advocacy. As systematic as it is, the method boils down to storytelling: going back and forth between evidence gathering and story refinement until you arrive at a narrative that a “reasonable person” could agree with. 


So there you have it – my #CKX6 on evaluating advocacy. How are you measuring your own work in this space? Have you come across any other tools or resources that have been invaluable to you? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Curated by the CKX Team and awesome contributors-at-large (Read: YOU), #CKX6 is a recurring series that shares six great resources, materials and insights on a particular topic, trend or issue related to our shared pursuit of social change. Think of it as a super-charged social change must read/watch/share/steal list!

This #CKX6 on public participation comes from our friend Juniper Glass. Juniper has been active in the nonprofit sector for two decades, working to improve strategy, operations, research and external communications at organizations addressing violence against girls, youth leadership, affordable housing, forest preservation and food security. She holds a Master of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership and is principal of Lumiere Consulting.