Meaningful Learning for Advocacy Organizations

As many actors across the social sector – including donors – have become more focused on establishing the impact of their work, some advocacy organizations have struggled to adjust to more stringent measures of effectiveness. This is understandable, since evaluating advocacy work does have its own unique challenges. Fortunately, many excellent sources – including reports from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ODI, SSIR, UNICEF and Innonet – are available to offer guidance for advocacy organizations seeking to measure their impact. Here are some tips for addressing common challenges:

  • Challenge: Time frames to reach goals are longer for advocacy than they are for many direct service organizations
    •   Solution: Advocacy organizations can address this challenge by measuring meaningful interim outcomes.
  • Challenge: The many forces and players seeking to influence policy outcomes make it difficult to isolate the effect of any single organization
    • Solution: Organizations can mitigate this difficulty by establishing theories of change that are particular to their own work. Furthermore, choosing a very specific element of policy where they hope to make a difference can allow advocacy organizations to better identify their own impact.   
  • Challenge: Effective advocacy requires adapting to shifting political opportunities – making it hard to know what works among changing strategies.
    •  Solution: Building flexibility into evaluation frameworks can allow organizations to track the logic behind their shifting strategies and foster learning.

Most advocacy organizations will never be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt their influence on an ultimate policy outcome. However, these tactics can help advocacy organizations convincingly show how their work affects intermediate outcomes and, more importantly, learn to be more effective.