APC TIG Week: What’s the role of local context in advocacy? Developing success factors from three case studies by Johanna Morariu, Katie Fox and Marti Frank

We are Johanna Morariu and Katie Fox of Innovation Network and Marti Frank of Efficiency for Everyone. Since 2015 our team has worked with the Center for Community Change (CCC) to develop case studies of economic justice campaigns in Seattle, Washington, DC and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

In each case study, our goal was to lift up the factors that contributed to the success of the local advocacy campaigns to deepen learning for staff within the organization about what it takes to run effective campaigns. After completing two case studies that shared a number of success factors, we realized an additional benefit of the studies: to provide CCC with additional criteria for future campaign selection. Our case study approach was deeply qualitative and allowed success factors to emerge from the stories and perspectives of the campaign’s participants. Using in-depth interviews to elicit perspectives on how and why change happened, we constructed an understanding of campaign timelines and the factors that influenced their success.

Lessons Learned: This form of inquiry produced two categories of success factors:

(1) contextual factors that are specific to the history, culture, or geography of place; and

(2) controllable factors that may be replicable given sufficient funding, time, and willingness on the part of partners in the field.

These factors broaden the more traditional campaign selection criteria, particularly by emphasizing the importance of local context.

Traditional campaign selection criteria often focus on considerations like “winnability,” elite and voter interests, and having an existing base of public support. While important, these factors do not go deep enough in understanding the local context of a campaign and the unique dynamics and assets of a place that may impact success.

Take for example one of the contextual factors we identified: The localities’ decision makers and/or political processes are accessible to diverse viewpoints and populations. In each of the case studies, the local pathways of influence were relatively accessible to advocates and community members. If this factor is in the mix, a funder making a decision about which campaigns to support may ask different questions and may even come to a different decision. In addition to asking about a campaign’s existing level of support and the political alignment of the locality, the funder would also need to know how decisions are made and who has the ability to influence them.

Lesson Learned: Our analysis produced five other contextual factors that influenced success, including: high levels of public awareness and support for the campaign issue; a progressive population (the campaigns focused on economic justice issues); an existing network of leaders and organizations with long-standing relationships; the existence of anchor organizations and/or labor unions with deep roots in the local community; and the small relative size of the cities.

Hot Tip: The factors provided a useful distinction between assets that were in existence or not (contextual) and factors that, if not already present, could potentially be developed by a new campaign (controllable). The factors also highlight the need to attend to place-based characteristics to understand the success of campaigns.


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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