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Effective Advocacy: Develop Strategies, Tactics, and Plan of Action, and a Plan for Evaluation

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The effective advocacy planning process:

A. Identify, examine, and understand the issue you want to address.
B. Identify the key actors and their roles and build relationships with appropriate actors.
C. Understand the system, what can be influenced, and what the leverage points are.
D. Develop goals and objectives.
E. Develop strategies, tactics, a plan of action, and a plan for evaluation.

Once you’ve developed your goals and objectives, you can decide on what strategies, tactics, and actions will best meet your needs and plan how you’ll evaluate the success of your efforts.

1. Develop a theory of change.

Especially if you’re working with a larger group, or as part of a coalition, choosing or developing a theory of change can help you gain clarity about what change you plan to make and how you’ll make it happen.

The Change Agency describes it this way:

IF (we do these things) THEN (this will change) BECAUSE (some persuasive causal logic). Put another way, IF (tactics / activities) THEN (political outcome or change) BECAUSE (why?).

Here’s an example of an early iteration of a theory of change we’ve used for our work at Phoenix Zones Initiative:

sample theory of change model

You can also use a logic model, as explained here by Community Tool Box. CTB outlines the basic components of a logic model here:

sample logic model for advocacy
Image via Community Tool Box CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Whatever you use and whatever you call it, the important thing is to have a clear understanding of what you’re trying to achieve, how you’ll try to achieve it, and why you’ll be successful.

Amnesty International has an exercise that can help you outline your theory of change (see page 20).

And Stanford Social Innovation Review offers an overview of theory of change pitfalls to avoid.


2. Consider essential questions.

In his book How We Win, George Lakey shares the series of questions that the EQAT (Earth Quaker Action Team) has used when outlining possible campaigns.

These questions are useful for homing in on strategy, tactics, and potential targets.

Here’s an adapted version of some essential questions, and an incomplete example using the problem of climate change:

Essential QuestionsExample
What’s the issue/problem/challenge you’re addressing?Climate change is a worldwide problem that is harming people, animals, and the planet.
What pillars of support are making the problem possible?Weak legislation and enforcement
Political divisiveness
Consumer attitudes
Lack of education
Who/what is suffering/most impacted (consciously and unconsciously)?People (especially children, marginalized populations, people in developing countries)
Nonhuman animals
Our natural world
Who is already working on the issue or is closely related?Several nongovernmental organizations (e.g., Sunrise, 350)
Intergovernmental entities (e.g., IPCC, the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change)
Certain corporations and tech companies
Political coalitions (e.g., Green New Deal)
What exactly do you want? (What’s your overarching goal?)Reduce the acceleration of climate change and its impacts by ending funding for fossil fuel companies.
Who can give you what you want? (Who has the power?)Policymakers, including the US administration and Members of Congress
Other national, state, and municipal governments
Multilateral agencies/intergovernmental organizations
Banks and other funding entities
Who/what is your specific target?Banks that invest in or benefit fossil fuel companies (Note: you’ll want to start with one or two specific banks.)
What do you want them to do?Stop financing fossil fuel projects
What are your broad short- and long-term goals?Short-term: raise public awareness and put pressure on one or more banks to stop financing fossil fuel projects
Long-term: end all funding of fossil fuel projects
What are your specific objectives?Public will switch from fossil-fuel-supporting banks to alternatives like credit unions.
Public will move their credit cards from fossil-fuel-supporting banks to sustainable alternatives.
Banks will sign divestment agreements and institute a clear deadline for ceasing funding of all fossil fuel projects.
What resources and support already exist to help you? Who are your potential allies for this target?Organizations already working on this issue, like and Sunrise, Green New Deal supporters, political and other organizations working to reverse climate change, etc.
What is your leverage?There is strong public support for addressing the climate crisis. Several banks have already divested. Public reputation is important to banks.
What is the situation (e.g., polarized, defined, history of struggle)?Fossil fuel companies and banks are largely still oblivious to the need to end fossil fuel projects.
Political polarization is largely along party lines.
Fossil fuel companies have known about climate change and the impact of fossil fuels for decades.
Who else might join but more distantly?Renewable energy companies
Socially responsible investors
What possible tactics could you use with this target?Social media messaging campaigns to pressure bank(s)
Divestment days for people to switch banks and credit cards
Public awareness campaigns and toolkits
Socially distanced street theater in front of bank branches
Resolutions from city governments, etc., to agree to divest
What language, framing, messaging, and communication will be important?Frame: The fossil fuel industry is incompatible with a just and sustainable future.
Message example: “If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage.”
Frame: Social, racial, and economic justice
Message example: “The fossil fuel industry perpetuates racial and economic injustice.”
Message example: “If it is wrong to poison communities, then it is wrong to profit from that poisoning.”
Frame: Our social and moral responsibility as institutions for the greater good
Message example: “Investments in fossil fuels are a denial of climate science.”
What special challenges do you need to be aware of?Avoid duplicating the efforts of other organizations
Need to be sure messaging is consistent
Need to ensure a clear agreed-upon deadline for divestment that is soon
Need to be clear about definitions (e.g., what divestment looks like)
Where are the gaps?Corporate will and leadership
Incentivization and dis-incentivization
Public education
Public engagement
What new skills are needed to be successful?Planning direct actions, mobilizing large numbers of people, and media skills
How will you evaluate the success/outcome?Number of people who switch to sustainable banks and credit cards
Amount of positive publicity
Signed agreement by targeted bank(s)
Changes in international policy and practices
Download the Essential Questions chart.

3. Choose your target.

Part of developing your strategy is deciding what entity or entities to target. Who are you trying to reach and why?

It may be one or more people or institutions. And you may have more than one target, depending on your goals.

It’s also important to consider that the person or institution most able to make the change you want may not be the best target. For example, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a worker-based human rights organization focused on improving rights and conditions for farm workers. When they decided to organize to improve pay and conditions for tomato pickers, they originally took their demands to tomato growers, without much success.

So, they switched their tactics to target fast food companies, which are big purchasers of tomatoes, and the public, who are consumers of fast food. Their new plan has met with much more success.

To identify the best target(s), you need to identify all the key actors, who plays what role, who influences who, who makes which decisions, and who has the power to make the desired changes.

You will have done some of this work already in identifying details about your key actors.

Page 32 of the Advocacy Toolkit from UNICEF has a helpful table for mapping your potential targets.



4. Decide on your tactics.

Tactics are the specific, strategic activities you plan to take to accomplish your goals and objectives.

Tactics are usually part of a larger campaign that unfolds over a period of time, increasing pressure on your target.

As Janice Fine from Beautiful Trouble says:

“Tactics are specific actions that:

  • mobilize a specific type and amount of power;
  • are directed at a specific target; and
  • are intended to achieve a specific objective.”

Fine highlights several key issues about strategic tactics.

There are numerous types of tactics for advancing your issue and transforming systems, such as:

  • Engaging in public education and outreach
  • Fostering shifts in attitudes, behaviors, and norms
  • Launching campaigns to target a specific issue or entity
  • Educating and influencing legislators and other decision makers
  • Influencing policy
  • Engaging in direct action
  • Writing or speaking
  • Storytelling
  • Mobilizing individuals and building coalitions

Most likely you’ll use a variety of escalating tactics, depending on your goals, objectives, and targets.

Gene Sharp has created a list of “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.” Not all of these are relevant or effective to systems change, but it’s useful to know about them.

New Tactics in Human Rights has a database of more than 200 examples of successful tactics.

The Global Nonviolent Action Database offers numerous historical and contemporary examples of tactics used around the world.

The Tactics Star from Beyond the Choir and the War Resister’s League outlines important questions to consider when planning strategic, effective tactics.

In his book Doing Democracy, Bill Moyer outlines the four strategic steps of The Grand Strategy:

  1. “…focus directly on the powerholders’ policies and institutions to expose their society secrets and challenge their actual policies and programs.”
  2. “…put the public spotlight on the problem and on the powerholders’ actual policies and practices in order to alert, educate, win over, involve, and inspire the general public to be involved in the movement.”
  3. “…mobilize the general public to put tremendous pressure on the powerholders and social institutions to change their policies and…to create a new peaceful cultural and democratic political conditions.”
  4. “…attract additional members of the general public to become social activists….”

Here are a few general tips about choosing tactics:

  • Research what tactics have been tried related to your issue of concern and evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and why. Consider how this assessment informs your own work.
  • Choose tactics that give you leverage over your target.
  • Choose tactics that support your overall strategy.
  • Choose tactics that are scalable (they can be reproduced anywhere by anyone) when appropriate.
  • Choose tactics that have “action logic”—they make sense from the viewpoint of someone outside of your group.
  • Choose tactics that resonate with common values (so that they don’t turn off too many members of the public).
  • Choose at least some tactics that are proactive rather than solely reactive so that you can influence the narrative and build a vision toward something better.

Here are some additional insights and tips that we’ve created for selected tactics:


Choose Tactics That Support Your Strategy” by Beautiful Trouble
Doing Democracy by Bill Moyer
Got Action Logic?” by Daniel Hunter

5. Develop an action plan.

Once you know your goals, objectives, strategy and tactics, you’ll want to develop an action plan that outlines the concrete details of your specific plan.

Consider completing an action plan chart like this one:

ActionWho’s responsible?By when?What resources are required?Who needs to know what?How will you measure success?What are the potential barriers?What objective does this serve?
Download the Advocacy Action Plan chart.

Find out more about developing action plans from Community Tool Box.

6. Plan to evaluate your efforts and determine how to measure success.

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

It can be tempting to forge ahead with your plans and worry about evaluation later, but meaningful and useful evaluation needs to be carefully planned and embedded into the entire process.

For example, if you set a goal to end animal trafficking, use the tactic of launching a program to retrain former animal traffickers into new jobs, and read a report saying that animal trafficking has decreased, without a proper evaluation there’s no way to tell whether your strategy was actually the lever that caused the desired result.

Evaluation is important because:

  • We want to be able to document and share our own learning.
  • We need to measure progress toward our social change goals.
  • We need to be sure about what actions and strategies are most effective.
  • We need to learn more about how change happens.
  • We need to involve key stakeholders in the process.
  • We need to be able to prove that it was our actions that had the desired effect, rather than something else.
  • We need to ensure that our actions and their effects don’t have unintended negative consequences.

Numerous organizations have created formal process outlines for including an evaluation component. Here are a couple of examples:

The Deming Cycle includes Plan/Do/Study/Act as a process for continually improving a product, process, or service. (It came from engineer W. Edwards Deming in the 1950s.)

Take note iconBe careful to ensure that your evaluation process is useful and meaningful. It can become easy for organizations to create evaluation plans that look great on paper but that end up being too difficult, expensive, or unrealistic to implement. Focus on using indicators that you can track regularly.

As Mary Kay Gugerty and Dean Karlan say in their article for Stanford Social Innovation Review, “The trend toward impact measurement is mostly positive, but the push to demonstrate impact has also wasted resources, compromised monitoring efforts in favor of impact evaluation, and contributed to a rise in poor and even misleading methods of demonstrating impact.”

Some important takeaways to consider for embedding evaluation into your strategy include:

  • Build feedback and evaluation explicitly into every stage of your strategy.
  • Consider developing a logic model to outline your program’s activities and its intended effects.
  • Set measurable outcomes for both longer-term and shorter-term goals.
  • Set goals and objectives that are within your capacity.
  • Set indicators to measure your success and be clear on what success looks like.
  • Include a baseline measure of your goals. (Where are things now?)
  • How can you determine what strategies, actions, groups are responsible for your successes?
  • How can you be sure that it was your actions that caused the change rather than something else?
  • Be sure your evaluation reflects principles of transparency, participation, your specific theory of change, and inclusion (especially of those who are vulnerable and usually ignored).
  • Your evaluation needs to be meaningful.
  • Be sure the evaluation meets your needs and goals and isn’t merely a response to outside pressure (such as a funder’s or grant maker’s conceptions).
  • Don’t sacrifice movement-building or ethics for short-term gain.
  • Include reflection as part of the evaluation.
  • Reflect frequently so that you can shift course or change strategies as needed in pursuit of your goal.
  • If possible, talk with an evaluation expert about your evaluation strategy.

Some basic questions to consider for measuring and evaluating outcomes include:

What is your goal our outcome?
How will you measure the success of your goal or outcome?
Is there room in your evaluation strategy to show both positive and negative results?
Where is the situation now? (What’s the baseline from which you’re starting?)
What is your target goal and timeline?
How will you verify that it was your actions that made the change?
What assumptions are you making?
What biases are your bringing?
What potential pitfalls could skew your results?
Download the chart of Questions to Consider for Evaluating and Measuring Outcomes.

Go to our Evaluate, Reflect, and Improve section for more information about planning how to evaluate your efforts.


Advocacy Toolkit by UNICEF
Better Evaluation
Considering Evaluation: Thoughts for Social Change and Movement-Building Groups by Catherine Borgman-Arboleda and Helene Clark
A Framework for Program Evaluation by the CDC

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