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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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“Groups are often able to identify their ultimate policy goal, but it's much harder to determine what incremental progress toward that policy goal would look like, as well as to identify appropriate indicators to measure this incremental progress. Number of web hits and letters sent to congress may not be the best indicators.”
— Linda Frey, Hewlett Foundation

Defining Indicators: Qualitative and Quantitative

Indicators are the road signs on the way to your advocacy campaign benchmarks and ultimate goals. They provide the evidence you need to know if you are heading in the right direction to meet or exceed your benchmarks for capacity building or advocacy. Indicators should not be complex; they are simple measures that show you whether you're on target. For example, and indicator is the number of news stories mentioning your issue; a benchmark this indicator points to is “Double the number of news stories on our issue.”

Benchmarks and Indicators
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Indicators are useful during a campaign because they illustrate results along the way. They help you adjust your plan and react to unexpected progress or obstacles. If the indicators you select appear to show positive results, you are on the right track. If your indicators show unplanned or unpredicted results, you can adjust your strategy and still hit your benchmarks. This is called formative evaluation.

For instance, let's say that your advocacy campaign is focused on improving U.S. trade policy to help farmers in developing countries. One of your capacity-building benchmarks is to “establish a healthy core coalition for fair trade advocacy with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.” Some indicators to determine progress toward this benchmark could be:

  1. A signed memorandum of understanding by coalition partners, detailing roles and responsibilities.
  2. The results of an online quarterly survey asking each organization's coalition liaison to judge the coalition's health.
  3. Minutes from a coalition meeting reflecting progress, coordination and diversity.

All three of these indicators will tell you something about the health of the core coalition and help you know whether you are on course to reach your benchmark.

In terms of advocacy progress, suppose one of your benchmarks is to attain House Appropriations Committee approval for the president's fiscal year 2007 Department of Education Special Education account. Some indicators may be:

  1. The number of e-petitions sent to congressional leaders through the coalition Web site.
  2. The number of congressional leaders and staffers attending a luncheon event on the importance of funding the Special Education account.
  3. The number and quality of press releases, issue statements and blog postings about funding the account on a congressional leader's Web site.

Indicators can be qualitative or quantitative. While quantitative indicators reveal the size of your campaign's efforts, qualitative indicators may reveal more about theirs effects. Qualitative indicators are often most helpful in determining what is working and what can be improved. When developing indicators, it is important to ask yourself how the measurement will help you improve the campaign. For instance, if you are measuring the education of congressional leaders about a certain issue, knowing that you sent 12,000 e-petitions versus 5,000 e-petitions won't tell you much about impact. However, obtaining an interview with the staffmembers in the congressional offices that received the most e-petitions about how they responded to the e-mails is a far more valuable measure of your efforts.

Sample tools you may want to use to monitor indicators can be found in the section on Monitoring Benchmarks and Indicators.


  • Use indicators for real-time evaluation. If you are only monitoring indicators to produce a semi-annual report for the funder, chances are that you are not using them as constructively as you could for formative evaluation.
  • Too many indicators can easily become unwieldy. Monitor the indicators that will be most helpful in directing the future course of your advocacy efforts.
  • Don't be tempted by easy measures. Counting e-mails sent, click-through rates or Web site hits is informative, but these indicators may not be as useful as looking at some qualitative measures: What was done with the emails received? Why did the recipients who did not click through the email decide not to do so? And when people landed on the Web site, what did they use the site for?