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Effective Advocacy: Evaluate, Reflect, and Improve

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As previously mentioned, effective advocacy requires us to evaluate our strategies, reflect on our plans and actions, and revise and evolve them into more effective versions based on what we learn about what works and what doesn’t.

1. Evaluate your efforts.

“When evaluation is not grounded in a working conceptual model that includes the power relationships and changes in attitude, knowledge, and behavior that are needed for large-scale social change, then assessments may be driven by technical, apolitical thinking that affects the selection of evaluation goals and indicators of progress. In these cases, immediate policy impact is often prioritized, rather than the process and relationship-oriented goals that movement-building history and experience tell us are critical for sustainable social change.”  ~ Catherine Borgman-Arboleda and Heléne Clark

As Amnesty International mentions in their campaign guide, three important questions you want to keep at the core of your evaluative work include:

  • Are you doing what you said you’d do? (effectiveness)
  • Is what you’re doing necessary and relevant? (relevance)
  • Are you generating meaningful change? (impact)


Quantitative and Qualitative Evaluation

There are numerous ways to measure and evaluate your impact. You may have a simple plan that tracks a few indicators over time, or you may invest a significant amount of resources into process, outcome, and/or impact evaluations. Depending on your key questions, you may decide to use quantitative and/or qualitative methods.

For example, if one of your goals is to get a certain piece of legislation passed, then you might want to assess the critical phases associated with passing a piece of legislation (which might pass through a series of phases over time, from: A. legislation under development, to B. legislation being negotiated with key stakeholders, to C. legislation passed).

If you think through the necessary steps and the amount of time taken to get that legislation passed, those processes could also be measured with metrics such as:

  • the number of votes for/against your proposed legislation;
  • the number of decision-makers reached;
  • the quality and quantity of beneficial relationships you’ve cultivated that can help your further your goals;
  • whether public perception on your issue of concern has changed;
  • the amount of public pressure applied to legislators urging them to pass the legislation; and
  • if the legislation didn’t pass, what barriers have been removed to facilitate getting it passed in the future.

Quantitative assessments can include gathering data through tools such as surveys, questionnaires, pre- and post-tests, literature reviews, program tracking at defined intervals, and observation.

Qualitative assessments can include strategies such as in-depth interviews, focus groups, direct observation, case studies, or written information.

Focus on creating outcomes that you can actually measure and that make sense for your plans.

GuideStar has a useful catalog of potential metrics to consider.

“Unique Methods in Advocacy Evaluation” by Julia Coffman and Ehren Reed outlines four evaluation methods that can be useful to advocates.

Community Toolbox offers an outline for evaluating your initiative.

The booklet “Considering Evaluation” offers a useful “so that” chain activity to help you “more explicitly show the short-, intermediate-, and long-term changes that will lead to lasting change” (see page 16).

In their article for Stanford Social Innovation Review, Mary Kay Gugerty and Dean Karlan offer insights into when and how to measure impact—and when it’s better not to.

2. Reflect on your work and the situation.

An important part of the evaluation process is assessing and reflecting on how you’ve done and what can be better. Be sure to include the input of key actors who are affected by your actions whenever possible.

When you’re reflecting on your efforts, consider questions such as:

  • What have you learned?
  • What’s working? Why? How do you know?
  • What’s not working? Why? How do you know?
  • How well did you do on your indicators and outcomes?
  • Do you have the right indicators and outcomes?
  • What happened that you weren’t expecting?
  • What unintended consequences occurred?
  • What useful relationships have been cultivated?
  • What barriers have been overcome?
  • What new barriers have been identified?
  • What new leverage points have been identified?
  • What messaging, language, and framing have been effective? What hasn’t?
  • How have things changed?
  • What are you forgetting?
  • In what areas do you need more training, resources, and support?
  • Knowing what you know now, what needs to change? What are important next steps?

Use what you’ve learned from your evaluation and reflection to create the next version of your plan.

3. Improve based on your reflection and evaluation.

Once you’ve assessed and reflected on your actions and results, you’ll want to create an evolved version of your plan.

Depending on what you discover, you might want to

  • escalate certain strategies and tactics.
  • emphasize the kinds of actions that provide successful and eliminate those that weren’t successful.
  • change your messaging.
  • build on relationships with some key actors and shift or decrease how you interact with others.
    find a new target.
  • adjust your efforts based on changing needs in your community, unexpected events, etc.

Take note iconRemember to base your decisions about how to improve your efforts based on your specific outcomes and other data and not based on guesswork.

Community Tool Box offers additional insights into when, why, and how to refine your efforts.



Advocacy Toolkit by UNICEF
After Action Review.” by Better Evaluation
Considering Evaluation: Thoughts for Social Change and Movement-Building Groups by Catherine Borgman-Arboleda and Heléne Clark

For more about evaluation, see:

CDC Approach to Evaluation
Measure Evaluation

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