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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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“We pick and choose from the evaluation what we share with funders. We try to highlight what has gone well and the successes. We put the things that have not gone well in as good as light as possible [in the report] and position them as lessons learned. Evaluation should be about learning or improving, not success or failure. But given the competitive nature, organizations always want to put the best foot forward. No dialogue about policy goals or evaluation reports occurs.”
— Anonymous Advocate

Checking in with Your Grantmakers

Before you start your advocacy activities, check in with your grantmaker to ensure you will both be satisfied with the advocacy and capacity-building goals. This means you must have a conversation about evaluation. A mutual understanding of the value of evaluation and shared learning is critical at these early stages. Why collect data for reports if your grantmaker is not interested? What if your evaluation is extremely helpful to you, but when your grantmaker sees the report s/he thinks you have wandered off course?

Here are some guidelines on what to discuss during your conversation with your grantmaker:

  • Evaluation costs money and will be a line item in your budget. Decide on the appropriate human resources configuration for evaluation and discuss its cost with your grantmaker. Make sure your donor(s) agree that you should dedicate these resources to learning and improving your efforts along the way.
  • Discuss what is already known about your advocacy issue and define the ultimate policy goal to make sure you and your funders are on the same page. If this is unclear, your grantmaker may believe that you are measuring progress in the wrong direction.
  • Discuss the innovative components of your campaign. What are the assumptions in the theory of change? Come to an agreement about what assumptions should be evaluated to benefit the campaign with “real-time” formative feedback. Also, determine if evaluating particular assumptions could help other potential grantees.
  • Agree on your benchmarks for both policy and capacity-building Help your grantmaker understand that you will do your best to hit them, but that oftentimes advocacy is shaped by events beyond your control. Discuss mechanisms to evaluate your response to external events. See if the grantmaker needs to track anything that you did not mention. Make sure that everything is covered
  • There are no constants in issue advocacy; assure the grantmaker that changes and improvements during the course of the advocacy efforts are signs of learning and capacity building, not signs of failure. Agree that your goal is to learn why targets are met or missed and to be flexible enough to react to these evaluation results and improve the advocacy efforts.
  • An “evaluation to impress” looks pretty, but it will not help your organization or the grantmaker promote effective advocacy.

TIPS

  • Encourage your grantmaker to recognize the value of capacity-building benchmarks as well as advocacy benchmarks. The grantmaker gets “more bang for the buck” in the long term if both kinds of change are considered progress.
  • Get on the same page to avoid a crippling disconnect between your advocacy activities and your grantmaker's measurements of success.
  • Share the wealth: discuss with grantmakers ways that you can share the results of your evaluation with other practitioners they fund or may fund. Building capacity within the your particular advocacy community advances everyone's goals.
  • Seek a healthy and productive conversation with your grantmaker. Do not just submit reports to “impress” the grantmaker; this doesn't help you or the grantmaker learn how to improve policy advocacy. After all, a grantmaker should be skeptical if all you have to share is success.