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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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The Right Time to Plan for Evaluation

What is evaluation?
You are here to learn about how to plan for advocacy evaluation, so a definition of evaluation is in order. In her book, “Evaluation,” Carol Weiss states that “…Evaluation is the systematic assessment of the operation and/or the outcomes of a program or policy, compared to a set of explicit or implicit standards, as a means of contributing to the improvement of the program or policy." Continuous Progress embraces this definition because it highlights the value of constant improvement.

The central idea behind Continuous Progress is that evaluation of advocacy should help you to

  1. detect progress towards advocacy goals, and correct your course of action when necessary;
  2. learn and improve where necessary, strengthening organizational capacity for advocacy effectiveness.

For more information on types of evaluation and its different uses, Guidelines for Evaluating Nonprofit Communications Efforts, by the Communications Consortium Media Center, discusses several types of evaluation and how they benefit public communications campaigns.

When to conduct evaluation
Evaluation is often performed at the end of an activity or program to review what worked, what didn't and why. Sometimes “lessons learned” are compiled. But post-facto evaluation has limited value. The resulting final evaluation reports sit all too often on someone's bookshelf, not discussed, distributed or shared with relevant parties beyond whoever requested the evaluation to be performed in the first place. Continuous Progress encourages you to look at advocacy evaluation as a dynamic process, one that continues throughout the life of an advocacy effort and contributes to advocacy progress for you and others in the field. Here is what this process requires:

  • Planning for evaluation from the beginning of your advocacy work
  • Monitoring and documenting progress, and correcting your course as necessary
  • Conducting a summative evaluation at the end
  • Sharing your results—both good and bad—with those who could learn from them inside and outside your organization

The early bird approach to advocacy evaluation
As you plan for advocacy work, you should also plan for the evaluation. Here are some benefits to the 'early bird' approach:

  • Determining evaluation goals (“What do I want to learn? What do I want to track?”), progress benchmarks and success indicators while you are planning your advocacy work will help establish clear expectations, roles and responsibilities within your team. This will also improve transparency between advocates and grantmakers.
  • Establishing baseline measures before you start can help you make a more informed assessment about the influence your advocacy will have over time.
  • Evaluating incremental progress towards your goal helps you test your early assumptions, determine whether you are on the right track, and change tactics when necessary. From a grantmaker perspective, it can ensure more “bang for the buck” as advocacy initiatives become more effective over time.
  • Defining progress benchmarks for your advocacy goal gives you the ability to show movement towards the goal, and when things are not going as expected, help you record, understand and explain why.
  • Defining progress benchmarks for your own capacity building efforts gives you the ability to monitor your organization's progress in developing advocacy skills, gaining new champions and expanding your network—to name only some advocacy capabilities—and in turn help improve the field of foreign policy advocacy.
  • Knowing intermediate results obtained from your evaluation can help you communicate progress to your grantmakers, staff, colleagues, board and other key stakeholders, keeping them engaged and motivated for the long run.
  • Conducting a summative evaluation -- what you do once your advocacy program or campaign is completed—will be much easier and more accurate if you have been monitoring progress during the implementation phase.

What if I am in the middle of my advocacy campaign?
Users of Continuous Progress come from organizations, campaigns or coalitions that may or may not have planned for evaluation before starting their advocacy work. If you are already running your advocacy campaign and have not done much on evaluation yet, don't be discouraged. The good news: there are still lots of things that you can accomplish by performing evaluation during your advocacy effort and even after the fact. Continuous Progress will help you explore what you can do at each stage, and will provide you with additional resources to go further.

Foreign policy and global development advocacy is a long-term endeavor. Evaluation can be your best ally in keeping stakeholders engaged. It will help you monitor incremental progress and strengthen your capacity to be a better advocate. And, of course, a well-constructed evaluation will help you gather accurate information about the contribution of your advocacy work to the desired policy change.

In sum: It's never a bad time to begin evaluating your advocacy efforts.