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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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"Nonprofit organizations often struggle to make evaluation meaningful because they are focused more on compliance than learning and improvement, they don't have enough experience to be a savvy evaluation client, and foundations have not helped them build capacity to do either."
— John Bare, Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation

EXAMPLES

The paper “Lessons in Evaluation Communications Campaigns” presents five evaluation case studies that are designed to serve as illustrations for how to evaluate organized communications efforts. These case studies present campaigns that have already faced and dealt with difficult evaluation choices and challenges. Read more »

Timing and Resources for Evaluation

Investing in advocacy will require advance planning as well as financial and human resources. The obvious benefit you will receive is more “bang for the buck” as your funded advocacy activities will continue to improve, making current and future funding more effective. Ultimately, of course, these improvements make it more likely that you will achieve your ultimate objectives: better foreign policy. However, haphazard evaluations can be money down the drain if no one will learn valuable lessons to promote better advocacy. How can you make your investments in advocacy evaluation as smart and effective as possible?

Planning
Planning for evaluation is the only way that grantees will be ensured a continuous feedback loop for incremental improvement. Ideally, organizations should plan to evaluate during the advocacy planning stage, working closely with the grantmaker and other coalition partners. If advocacy activities are already underway, it is still not too late to encourage your grantee to start the evaluation process. While planning how to assess the past may be more difficult, planning to evaluate current and future advocacy activities is completely feasible. You can provide grantees with guidelines that describe your expectations for evaluation.

Resources: human and financial
The human resources model for staffing advocacy evaluation will differ for each organization or coalition depending upon the internal strengths of the grantee. There are three common models for staffing advocacy evaluation: designation model, teamwork model and external model. Understanding the grantee's strengths and knowing others working in the field of advocacy evaluation, you may be able to work with the grantee to select an appropriate model.


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Designation model: specific staff as evaluators
In this model, the organization designates specific staff members as evaluators. Depending on the scale of the activities, this could be just one key person dedicating all (or part) of his or her time to evaluation or it could be a large team of staff members responsible for evaluation. These staff member(s) are the drivers of the evaluation, responsible for monitoring, collecting and analyzing data and reporting the results back to the advocacy team in a constructive manner.


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Teamwork model: practitioners as evaluators
This model shifts more of the evaluation responsibility to the team of practitioners by appointing one central evaluation coordinator (time allocation depends on scale of advocacy efforts) and dedicating a small portion of all practitioners' time to evaluation. This model requires significant planning up front. During the actual advocacy effort, the advocacy work is integrated with the evaluation activities to achieve “more bang for the buck.” The coordinator receives all of the information collected by practitioners and compiles the formative reports for the organization or coalition.

The success of this model comes from an organization's ability to decrease the evaluation workload by making evaluation part of the programmatic activities. For example, maybe an interview with a congressional staffer for a podcast on the campaign Web site could also double as an indicator: a case study on how a congressional leader responds to advocacy activities. A grassroots activist's blog entries on the campaign Web site could provide data about capacity building at local levels.

One caution about this model: make sure the grantee staffers are adequately trained in basic qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods to prevent bias and ensure quality evaluation results.


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External model: consultant as evaluator
This model uses an external consultant to answer questions about the effectiveness of the grantee's advocacy activities. This model does not rely on staff to carry out evaluation activities and has the benefit of bringing in “fresh eyes.” Of course, this approach requires careful planning in partnership with the evaluator to agree on what data is needed as a baseline and what indicators the consultant should be looking for. Evaluation consultants generally will interact with staff members to collect data, using a smaller amount of staff time for evaluation activities. While this model can reduce the organizational stress of monitoring and evaluating while conducting an advocacy campaign, in some cases, it can cause discomfort among staff.

The level of funding can constrain evaluation choices and evaluation effectiveness. It is possible to do a lot with relatively modest resources. But it is impossible to evaluate everything, and evaluating foreign policy advocacy is a new field with many unknowns. But as a rule of thumb, expect that a good evaluation can cost approximately 5 to10 percent of the total advocacy program costs.


TIPS

  • Have a meaningful discussion with your grantee. Try to come to a mutual understanding about what should be evaluated to improve advocacy efforts and move toward long-term results. Decide together how much money and time to spend on evaluation. This is much easier than having your grantee play a “guessing game” about what to evaluate and which resources to allocate to evaluation.
  • You may be able to assess the evaluation strengths and weaknesses of a grantee and help the grantee to select an appropriate model.
  • Your level of engagement in the funding of evaluation will determine the quality of the evaluation results. Ensure that your grantee has the proper resources to carry out an effective advocacy evaluation.