WE Affiliate Week: How Do We Know If Our Advocacy Is Making a Difference … or Not? By Carlisle Levine

Hello! I am Carlisle Levine with BLE Solutions, LLC. Much of my evaluation work is related to advocacy.

Figuring out an advocacy effort’s contribution to policy change is challenging. Prior to launching my own company, I led advocacy evaluation for CARE USA. One year, we experienced policy win after policy win. We felt euphoric. But then, a midterm election took place, bringing significant changes to Congress, and suddenly, we were gaining little traction on our policy issues. Had we been super effective one year and ineffective the next? How much of this – the wins and the lack of traction – resulted from our efforts, and how much was due to external factors? Understanding this requires systematic monitoring and evaluation.

Hot Tips and Rad Resources:

Beginning an advocacy effort by assessing the landscape and then our own advocacy capacity can help us understand our starting point and design our strategy to respond to it.

  • A landscape assessment helps us understand how our policy of interest fits in a broader policy landscape, which policymakers are best positioned to influence it, and who and what else might either advance it or hinder its progress.
  • To assess advocacy capacity, the Alliance for Justice’s Advocacy Capacity Tool can help us understand our strengths and weaknesses, as well as where we might want to partner with others to fill capacity gaps.

Once our advocacy is under way, monitoring tools can help us identify correlations between our advocacy efforts and policy change. By identifying correlations, we know which questions we need to explore further to understand our contribution to policy change.

  • We can assess changes in a policymaker’s actions related to a target policy. A good tool for doing this is Julia Coffman’s Policymaker Rating Scale. We can then map our advocacy efforts against policymaker behavior and look for interesting correlations to explore further.
  • Creating timelines may be part of that mapping activity. With a timeline, we can clearly see the sequencing of our actions and those of policymakers. You can find an example timeline in this brief on contribution analysis.
  • Content analysis is another way to look for correlations between our advocacy and policy change. To what degree are our positions reflected in policymakers’ speeches or op-eds or in policy or legislation?

However, to understand the degree to which the changes we identify were influenced by our advocacy, we need to dig deeper. Contribution analysis, described in this brief, helps us test our theories about how change came about against alternative explanations, allowing us to confidently make evidence-based statements about our contribution to policy change.

Rad Resources: For more guidance on assessing links between advocacy and policy change, check out these two recorded presentations:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Washington Evaluators (WE) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from WE Affiliate 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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