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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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“We ask organizations to look at what they can measure along the way, as some indications of progress: whether people are aware of what they are advocating for, whether the issue has become part of the debate.”
— Megan Burke,
Ford Foundation

Monitoring Benchmarks and Indicators

Your advocacy campaign is in full swing, so now it is time to determine if it is on course to achieve its ultimate goal. Before you set out on your campaign, you decided what benchmarks you would aim for as interim, incremental steps toward your campaign goal. You also determined what you would use as indicators: the signals that tell you whether you are on the right course. Now it's time to put them to use.

As your advocacy activities continue, you should keep a calendar to map out what indicators will be available and when they can be analyzed. You should also plan how you are going to monitor them. As we mentioned in earlier sections, the most cost-and-time efficient way to monitor indicators is to make them part of your advocacy activities. For example:

  • Using interview opportunities with congressional staffers to also pose questions about the effectiveness of specific advocacy activities
  • Monitoring committee meeting speeches and bill proposals for updates to advocates on your campaign Web site while also using them as a tracking system for Congressional progress on a particular issue.

Indicators provide real-time—or at least really timely—feedback on your advocacy efforts. They can help you stay on course towards a successful campaign. Want some actual tools to help you plan to measure your qualitative and quantitative benchmarks? You've come to the right place. And if you would like to brush up on the basics beforehand, we have a refresher course.

Qualitative tools for developing indicators
Surveys:
Surveys can be an easy way to gauge the effectiveness of various dimensions of your advocacy actions. Think about how each of the actors in your campaign can provide you with valuable feedback, for example:

  • Online constituents could give you feedback on e-communications and online offerings.
  • Field organizers can let you know what is really happening on the ground when it comes to mobilizing people around your foreign policy objectives.
  • Congressional staffers can let you know if your actions had any impact on the Hill, and if not, how they can be improved.
  • Public opinion surveys can let you know what you're up against and if your messages are having an impact.
  • Media surveys can give you feedback on whether your communications strategy is on track and influencing the way your issue is framed.

Interviews: Surveys have their limits. When you need to dig deeper to get in-depth insight into your activities, pick a key figure involved in each of the different dimensions of your advocacy activities and ask some targeted questions. Remember, all feedback can be positive: Knowing what people really think is the only way to make your advocacy activities stronger.

Example: After a recent press event led to zero traction on the Hill, you decide to interview a staffer who attended the event to better understand how his office responded to the event, if at all, and why. In the interview, you learned that a surprising new opponent on your issue had emerged and made a compelling case to congressional staff members in a briefing a week before your event.

Focus Groups: To obtain broad perspectives on different aspects of your campaign, convene a focus group. If your participants are not all in one place, convene a conference call. It is an inexpensive and effective way to get real-time indicators.

Example: After your Web statistics for the month indicated that the 18-34 year-olds in your constituency were not reading your e-mails at as high a rate as the younger and older online constituents, you arrange a conference call with 10 random people in this age group to get their feedback. (You may need to include an incentive for participating, which is common in focus grouping.) In the session, you learn that your messages seem out of date to these users, as they are often responding to news items that are one to three days old. You conclude that your coalition-wide approval process — the reason for the several-day lag time on your advocacy messages — must be revised to maintain contact with this critical demographic.

Observations: Believe it or not, indicators can come from simply observing what is happening around you. Whether you are a participant or observing behind glass, the body language, frames and general attitude of the people in the focus group can provide insights you need to shape your campaign. Everything from sitting in on a meeting of coalition partners to watching the dynamic at a congressional hearing can yield valuable information.

Quantitative tools for developing indicators
Some of the most basic numbers that you will need to monitor your indicators will come from using qualitative tools and aggregating answers. Below are some additional tools that may be helpful.

Statistics on the use of materials: Keeping track of kits distributed, e-mails sent, phone calls made, or people who attended local events are all important. But statistics that simply track outputs like these are not indicators of actual advocacy progress, as we have noted elsewhere. Nonetheless, maintaining records of usage can be helpful in formulating better questions and in turn, may lead to more meaningful indicators. Asking “why” a number is the way it is or “what did they do next” will often lead to more useful indicators.

Capacity and advocacy statistics: Setting a baseline before you begin your efforts can help you assess your progress both in terms of capacity-building and advocacy progress. For instance, keeping track of how many meetings your organization has with key congressional leaders from year to year can be an indicator of your capacity to mobilize decision makers. At the same time, the number of bills proposed or press hits achieved on your topic from one month or year to the next can be an indicator of advocacy progress. But remember not to take these numbers at face value: Always ask “why” and look at the quality of the numbers to understand their significance. Keep in mind that outside forces unrelated to your activities may also have influenced these numbers. Honestly examining the impact of external influences will make your advocacy efforts better in the end.

So what do you do after you monitor indicators?
Too often, foreign policy advocacy campaigns merely monitor indicators and then stop. Remember, indicators are the road signs telling you if you are on the path to reaching your benchmarks. Don't just monitor the indicators: Listen to them. Do not be afraid to adjust your strategy. Changing course is not a bad thing to do; in fact, it is the smart thing to do if you want to make your long-term goal a reality. When it comes to foreign policy advocacy, flexibility is the key to success.

As your indicators point you in the right direction, you can start meeting (or exceeding) your benchmarks. We talk more about this process in the Tracking Victories and Defeats section.

 

Download a Benchmarks and Indicators worksheet.
(Right-click the link and save the file to your computer.)

TIPS

  • For surveys, you needn't rely on old-fashioned (and expensive) techniques. Many Web sites, like SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang offer very inexpensive ways for a novice to develop an online survey. In addition, these programs help you analyze your data and export them to spreadsheets.
  • Multiple-choice and closed-ended questions can help you develop quick statistics, but open-ended questions will usually offer more nuanced guidance about whether you are on the right track with your advocacy activities.