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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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Foreign Policy and Global Development Advocacy: What's It All About?

For our purposes, we define foreign policy advocacy as efforts that seek to affect U.S. relations with other countries. Global development advocacy is primarily focused on U.S. policy toward the developing world. Most often, this takes the form of advocating action on a variety of issues such as debt relief, poverty alleviation, improved global health and access to education, among others.

Many U.S. nonprofits working on global development have worked in developing countries for decades; yet they are increasingly recognizing the need for public education and advocacy programs in the U.S. The primary reason is that, to continue doing their work, these U.S.-based organizations need the support of the American public and government, in terms of funding as well as policy change. This entails efforts to inform and engage the American public on global issues; to educate Congress about these issues; to promote policies consistent with global development goals; and to positively affect the American media's portrayal of the developing world.

These are not small tasks, and Continuous Progress is designed to help groups be more effective in their advocacy and generate the policy changes they are seeking.

Some challenges to overcome
Advocates are often fighting for increases in U.S. assistance to the developing world. Other groups may ask that funds be reallocated to specific priorities within the aid budget. Others still may call for reforms to the foreign assistance process itself. Any discussions about budget priorities can be trumped by invoking national security, a topic on which few members of the public lack an opinion. And no lawmaker can afford to be silent about the role of the military in keeping Americans safe. Global development advocates may well believe that their issues ought to be part of that conversation as well, but they find few champions among elected or appointed officials and relatively few vocal advocates among members of the public.

Many global development advocates would argue that constituency building efforts are necessary if the changes in policies they promote are to occur and endure. But groups often find themselves in the difficult position of having to inform the public about an issue while asking them to take action at the same time. They seek to build a growing and informed constituency that will reach out to policymakers on these matters. For many Americans, global affairs are far away from their daily lives, and are perceived as best left to intellectual and political elites inside the Beltway. The good news is that many research studies show that the American public's core values and expressed preferences are consistent with the idea of a more engaged, cooperative U.S. role in the world well beyond the current security engagement that dominates our foreign policy. The challenge is to catalyze these latent sympathies and to turn quiet support into active engagement.

Advocates struggle as well to bring their message to the public through the media, especially outlets outside the largest national newspapers and magazines. For the most part, national television, local and regional press give minimal coverage to global issues and when they do, news tends to cover only catastrophic events and not crises that tend to linger over time, like extreme poverty or hunger. This type of news coverage establishes and reinforces the global mayhem frame through which many members of the public view the developing world. Organizations increasingly work to counter this frame by offering positive stories from the developing world that show effective policies and empowered people lifting themselves out of poverty.

How evaluation can help
The foreign policy advocacy community is growing and evolving. We believe this community can greatly benefit from collaborating, sharing successes and defeats, and raising the profiles of the issues with the media. Continuous Progress proposes an evaluation approach that is based on collaboration among advocacy groups as well as between grantmakers—private foundations, corporate foundations and other giving institutions—and the interests they support.

Advocacy groups are facing new requirements by a range of stakeholders to show results and a “return on investment.” Continuous Progress seeks to help groups use evaluation to their benefit, providing insights into how to be better, stronger and smarter foreign policy advocates. We seek also to validate the importance of building advocacy capacity through evaluation among nonprofits, grantmakers, think tanks, consultants and other actors in the world of foreign policy.

Many of the attributes we associate with foreign policy advocacy may, after all, be common to other issues as well: constituents who are sympathetic but silent; policymakers who underestimate public support; technically challenging topics and jargon that discourages popular participation. If you are an advocate on other issues, but feel that you can benefit from these guides, we welcome you to this learning community. We hope we can help.

Evaluation can help build a stronger community of advocates, if grantmakers and advocates are willing to learn together. These guides can help show the way.