APC Week: Annabel Jackson on Influence and Influencers and Learning from my clients

Hello. I’m Annabel Jackson. I lead an evaluation practice that I founded in 1989 in the United Kingdom (UK). We work in Europe, Africa and the United States in areas including economic development, the arts, grant making, advocacy and international aid: from evaluating The Office of Tony Blair’s program in Rwanda to assessing implementation of the UK’s visual arts strategy.

One of the gifts of evaluating advocacy is the chance to get to know and observe some of the most skilled of influencers: people who can work with strong dissenters, with ever-changing and demotivated institutions, with low resources and long time frames to progress opportunistically, and sometimes indirectly, towards a final goal.

Two stories illustrate the appeal and value of viewing the world through an ‘influencing’ lens.

I am in the final year of evaluating a five year campaign to reduce the number of children in prison in the UK. The campaign has already met its targets despite an inclement political climate and a surge in imprisonments during last summer’s riots. The campaigners systematically analyze the incentives in the decision-making system and then work closely and authoritatively with a government agency to realign these incentives with the campaigners’ objectives. They learned that these days in the UK, the rhetoric may be tough, but it suffices to show how a proposed change in policy will save money to get agencies on board.

Lesson Learned: Effective influencers work to realign incentives to be consistent with their objectives

Another story: I am three years into a seven year impact evaluation of a large scale business advocacy program in Tanzania. The program managers are skillful and have produced quantifiable progress during the last year. The program appears to be yielding an unintended positive consequence as well: changing government culture to one of active cooperation with business, leading even to joint partnerships. Rather than tackling separate projects, the business advocacy organizations are pursuing highly ambitious shared agendas with government and donors, such as a joint marketing strategy for tourism.

Lesson Learned: This story suggests that aid programs might benefit by weaving together an influencing strand with their programmatic strand, using advocacy to influence systemic incentives.

Perhaps most evaluators would feel uncomfortable aligning themselves closely with advocacy organizations. But evaluation can usefully help us recognize how skillful advocates work, conceptualizing, documenting and disseminating what we learn about influence and influencing. Learning from professional advocates helps enrich our understanding of programmatic incentives and levers for change.

Hot Tip: Use the influencing lens to gain a different perspective on a program.

We’re celebrating Advocacy and Policy Change week with our colleagues in the APC Topical Interest Group. 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. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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