Advocacy and Policy Change TIG Week: Defensive Advocacy by Sarah Stachowiak and Joel Gutierrez

Hello AEA365ers! We’re Sarah Stachowiak, CEO and Joel Gutierrez, Consultant from ORS Impact in Seattle, WA. Since 1989, we have been partnering with advocates across the globe to help them think about, measure, and learn from their advocacy strategies and outcomes.

Lessons Learned: Whether they call it “killing the bill”, “holding the line” or “just good advocacy”, advocates spend plenty of time and resources on work that is defense.  There’s long been recognition that avoiding a loss can sometimes be a win for advocates, however, there has been less focus on “defense” as evaluation frameworks and tools have been developed.

For a recently finished brief on defensive advocacy (read the brief here), we talked to advocates and funders to better understand how they think about advocacy on the defense. We wanted to understand whether it was a distinct category of work and the degree to which there were useful frameworks and tools for evaluating it.

The brief represents our key takeaways from those conversations. Here we share:

Lessons Learned: What is defensive advocacy?

We heard about two types of defense.  Reactive defense is what most of us might first think of when we think about advocacy on the defense: a new bill with negative effects gets proposed, or a prior win’s funding is going to be gutted. In these cases, defensive advocacy means maintaining the status quo, keeping a past win on the books or fully funded.

“Preventative defense,” “proactive defense,” and “anticipatory defense.” These were all terms advocates used to describe cases where advocates created a long-term strategy to win back losses over time or built capacity to prepare for foreseen defense.

Hot Tips: What are some implications for strategy?

  • Strategies and tactics come from the same toolbox, whether advocates are on offense or defense.
  • Finding funding and philanthropic support is especially hard.
  • Standing capacity is crucial. Much of what we think of as traditional defense involves advocates rapidly responding to a new policy situation or threat. When those moments arise, advocates don’t have time to build new relationships with champions, policymakers, partners, or constituents.

Hot Tips: What are some implications for evaluation?

  • Many previously identified interim advocacy and policy outcomes are the same and highly valued. (Read Pathways for Change for full list of interim advocacy and policy outcomes)
  • Key informants described some distinct and different outcomes in three outcome buckets:
    • Improved policies, for example:
      • Bills not being introduced
      • Bills voted down on the floor
      • Favorable precedent established for future legislation or litigation
    • Changes in impact, for example:
      • Fewer individuals or community negatively effected
      • Reduced barriers or effort necessary to access supportive benefits or services
    • Strengthened base of support, for example:
      • More supportive candidates in office/fewer opposition candidates retain office
      • Changes in majority party in legislative bodies.

We hope this piece will continue to inform, refine, and strengthen evaluators’ and funders’ thinking around strategy, measurement, and evaluation for those times in advocacy when the best offense is a good defense.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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