I keep getting asked questions about monitoring and evaluation in campaigning. I’ve no idea why but here are a few of my reflections on the challenges (and opportunities).
1- It’s as much an art as it is a science – This paper is one of my favourite on the topic suggests that “Advocacy requires an approach and a way of thinking about success, failure, progress, and best practices that is very different from the way we approach traditional philanthropic projects such as delivering services or modeling social innovations. It is more subtle and uncertain, less linear, and because it is fundamentally about politics, depends on the outcomes of fights in which good ideas and sound evidence don’t always prevail”. Simply put trying to apply evaluation approaches from programme work are unlikely to work, as INTRAC suggests “The reality is that evaluating advocacy is hard. There is no magic bullet and systems”.
2 – What your measuring is often just the tip of the iceberg – Jim Coe has just authored this paper which suggests “the most significant benefits (of campaigning) are often submerged: difficult to measure, to monetise and sometimes even to see. It’s right to anchor advocacy to rigorous assessment. But calculations of value can risk focusing only on the part that is visible, generating misleading information and encouraging poor decision-making”, suggesting, amongst other things, that we should approach advocacy as inherently speculative, as “not all advocacy efforts will pay off, so plan for, and take a long term view of, “aggregate return” on advocacy rather than focusing on individual successes”.
3 – Focus on the transformational as well as the transactional – when you set objectives its easy to focus on the outcomes (transactional) like the number of actions taken, open rate on an email or attendance at event. As this paper suggests your metrics “should capture quantity and quality, numbers and nuance, transactions and transformations” recognising the importance of the impact of your advocacy on transformations “the vital but sometimes “invisible” work. They show how people, organisations, and movements have been altered through the collective efforts”.
4 – Don’t ignore it – In the busyness of a campaign focusing on monitoring and evaluation can feel like a luxury, but here are some useful tools for quick evaluation. Simply put, any serious campaign should focus on investing in both monitoring and evaluating, while recognising that most of the impact you won’t see until long after your grant/campaign has ended, so its always good to think about going back to review campaigns you’ve run a while back.
I’d also encourage all campaigners to get better at sharing their evaluations. It’s time we had an ‘open evaluation’ movement to unlock and share all the learning across our campaigns to help each other. Feel free to use the comment sections to post links to any in the comment section below.
Looking for more ideas? This report from UNICEF has lots of useful tools and approaches.