APC TIG Week: Kat Athanasiades and Johanna Morariu on Share Those Lessons! Building Our Advocacy Evaluation Field

Hello, we are Kat Athanasiades and Johanna Morariu from Innovation Network, an evaluation firm that works with philanthropic and nonprofit organizations, especially those engaged in advocacy.

Advocacy evaluation has been a difficult field to generate shareable lessons. Many organizations and campaigns are concerned that sharing their “secrets” (information usually divulged in evaluation reports such as methods, approaches, and incremental wins) will give the “enemy” valuable information that might undermine future phases of their work. Given this dearth, we saw an opportunity to try to support more general learning. We sought to highlight this process by looking at the past ten years of The Atlantic Philanthropies’ immigration reform advocacy grantmaking in the US. We used this campaign as a case study to highlight important decision points that a broader audience of nonprofits, funders, and evaluators could apply to their own work, regardless of the issue.

Hot Tip: Get more mileage out of your evaluations! With good planning, one evaluation may result in a paper for the board, a blog post for the evaluation community, and a visualization to send out over Twitter. It’s not always feasible to do this, given budget and confidentiality constraints, but when you can, do it! You will add to the advocacy evaluation field and contribute to improved practice among advocates.

Our evaluation project resulted in a fairly traditional report, documenting the history of US federal immigration reform. The report is most likely to be used by close-in project stakeholders (Atlantic and immigration reform advocates), but to expand the relevance of strategic lessons to a broader audience, we pulled Atlantic’s key decisions out of this report and then elaborated the implications, pros, and cons, around each decision. We also developed discussion questions that evaluators can use as a facilitation guide with partners who are considering advocacy work.

Rad Resource: We’ve also created a Funder Discussion Guide to accompany the traditional report. As an example, one decision that any advocacy funder may make is whether to emphasize grassroots or grasstops funding strategies. The decision partly rests on whether the issue of interest has become politicized and what opportunities current political realities afford. Using the questions in the Guide, an evaluator can help walk an advocacy partner through a theory of change process, thinking through the context, assumptions, and needs that underlie their work.


Lesson Learned: Share lessons! We started this post by explaining that there’s a dearth of information in the advocacy evaluation field. We invite you all to share how you have made use of evaluation projects to expand learning and use of your findings.

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The American Evaluation Association is celebrating APC TIG Week with our colleagues in the Advocacy and Policy Change Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our AP TIG members. 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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