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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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“Groups are mostly whistling in the dark, when it comes to showing policy change results in one year or short time periods. And if they do, I wouldn't even believe them. You can't change policy in short time frames.”
— Phil Sparks, Communications Consortium Media Center


“We see some interesting opportunities out there, in particular with the global AIDS work. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently conducted a survey of the American public, asking questions about whether the U.S. should spend more on issues such as global AIDS. People are saying YES, because they see that it can make a difference, and they say the U.S. can do more..." Read more »

Building Momentum: The Tipping Point of Policy Change

Changes in U.S. foreign policy are often incremental and slow. Decision-making processes are complex. They are further complicated by unexpected outside events and by the relatively low salience that global affairs have for the American public. (Generally speaking, even if members of the public are interested and supportive, their level of action and engagement may remain very low unless they perceive the issue to be immediately relevant to their lives. Moreover, overuse of jargon -- coupled with the dominant frame applied in most U.S. media coverage of global issues, known as the global mayhem frame -- discourages members of the public from feeling that they can understand or influence events.

What constitutes an advocacy victory?
Sometimes what seems like an advocacy victory is very short-lived, or suddenly becomes a defeat: a Congressperson who promised you support backs down; a promising partnership with a media channel that you've worked on for one year falls through; the event that you expected to rally 100,000 people only attracted 10,000. In these situations, you and your coalition may have to regroup and start again. In other situations, a small victory is achieved, but by itself is not enough to spur policy change. For instance, an increase in funding on a specific foreign assistance account is confirmed but it is not sufficient to move the needle for the desired development intervention in sub-Saharan Africa. These victories, however, provide the basis for a larger change that could be seen in two, three or even ten years. It is important to keep in mind that every victory counts, however small, and can be a stepping stone for the next success. This is a reality of foreign policy advocacy that you and your donors need to accept.

Building capacity for incremental progress
Advocates are dealing all the time with small victories and defeats. But you need to show results that your donors and other stakeholders will find encouraging and affirming. The best way you can build momentum is by building your capacity to be agile and act when the time is right, and by sharing the results, good and bad, with your staff, your grantmaker, your fellow advocates and constituents. Defeats, too, can be important learning opportunities. As you monitor the landscape and track the incremental changes that you did and didn't contribute to, you will be better equipped to predict when or how these changes could generate a tipping point.

For instance, in legislative advocacy, some advocates are very connected with decision makers—they practically live on Capitol Hill—and they are often “in the know” about what's coming up. Others might be so invested in their own work that they have a hard time monitoring all the political ups and downs and detecting upcoming changes. Which one are you? How can you be best prepared to react to the opportunities and threats that the environment presents? How can you be ready for the tipping point?

Momentum can be felt when a bill is introduced and it secures critical co-sponsors; a faith-based group with large membership joins your advocacy campaign; funding is redirected to the account you are advocating for; the frames used by the media to discuss your issue are starting to change. You can celebrate and share these major victories, learn from and share the defeats, keep going and build momentum!