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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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“It's pretty difficult to evaluate advocacy because it's detailed and less tangible: writing a letter, mobilizing your base, linking it to an outcome that is not quantifiable, it's hard.”
— Kolleen Bouchane, RESULTS

Finding the Missing Pieces and Facing Strategy Adjustments

Working with the grantee before you began the advocacy activities, you most likely helped develop a theory of change detailing the advocacy inputs, assumptions and intended outputs. As the advocacy grant continues, you and the grantee will be able to follow the resulting document to understand how the advocacy activities are progressing. During this process, it is important to look at the indicators and ask, “Why?”

The theory of change for the advocacy grant is based on assumptions that the grantee (or you) had about the effects of specific advocacy activities. To gauge your success, imagine your theory of change as a flow chart; move through the chart tracking on the promised actions and the predicted outcomes. Did you and your grantee accurately predict how different phases of the campaign would unfold? Did some unanticipated development force a modification in your plan? During this process, you will likely see one of three outcomes for each theory of change assumption:

Possible Result 1: Undeniable success!
In some instances, the assumption may be completely accurate and the step occurred exactly as anticipated. Pat your grantee on the back (and yourself, if you were involved in a good collaboration) for a job well done! But, before you get too comfortable, think about why this step went well. Was it the result of luck or carefully calibrated actions? Taking time to reflect on some lessons learned from this very positive achievement will help you make informed decisions in your future grantmaking.

Possible Result 2: Success (well, sort of)
For other arrows in the theory of change, the assumption connects to a step that, while it did occur, did not happen exactly as planned. That is not bad news at all— in fact, this is why you are investing in evaluation in the first place. Ask the grantee to determine what part of the assumption was not true. Did external forces influence this assumption? Was the assumption overly optimistic?

If you have been working in policy advocacy for some time, you already know that myriad external factors could influence grantee work, and in many cases, the grantee will have little or no control over them. That is the bad news. The good news is that the theory of change allows you and the grantee to revisit the plan and assumptions, now taking these new events into account, and redirecting advocacy actions accordingly. These unplanned events are not always a negative occurrence; on occasions, they can be an opportunity for you to step up your advocacy activities.

Sample of Result 2

  1. A grantee thought that by sending an action alert -email to its online constituents, the e-mail would automatically arrive in their inboxes. What happens if a popular Web-based e-mail browser sends your mail to a junk folder? While some e-mails did arrive, many constituents did not receive the action alert. Now it's time to ask “why” and figure out how to make this tactic more effective in future advocacy activities.
  2. A grantee has records of a high click-through rate on an action alert e-mail, but little action occurred as a result of it. As the grantee further investigates, he or she realizes that many constituents on the mailing list are college students who are in final exams week, therefore, they have very little time to go to the Web site and take action.
  3. Good news! The number of people who took action far exceeds the number of constituents on the mailing list. Why was your action so popular? It turns out that the day before you sent the action alert a popular celebrity was on national television speaking out about your issue. As a result, many of the constituents decided to forward your alert to their friends, family and co-workers, assuming that many of them may have watched the celebrity's TV appearance and may now be more familiar with the issue.

Check out the Advocate Guide on monitoring benchmarks and indicators for some suggestions on how to get more information on “why” something did or did not happen and how to make the advocacy stronger as a result.

Possible Result 3: A breakdown
The third possible result is all too common. Suppose a crucial early assumption on which much of your work was based did not hold true. The subsequent steps in the theory of change did not occur. This is a breakdown in the grantee's advocacy theory. It will be up to the grantee to decide how to change course to steer the advocacy campaign back on the path to meeting benchmarks by understanding what aspects of the assumption were off target.

Sample of Result 3
The sample theory of change assumed that an increase in the number of constituent e-mails would cause a congressional aide to investigate an issue further. As it turns out, the aide didn't even budge. It's time to pinpoint what the grantee did not anticipate which resulted in the breakdown. What went wrong and how can this assumption be fixed to keep the chain reaction of advocacy activities in motion? Again, the answer may not be something simple and advocates will have to dig to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Your role as a grantmaker
As your grantee determines which assumptions during the proposal-writing phase were right on, slightly flawed or incorrect, the organization or coalition is learning and building capacity to effectively advocate on these issues. This information will also help you in future grantmaking.

If during this process a grantee uncovers some vital pieces that are missing from the inputs, additional support from a grantmaker may be able to significantly improve the advocacy efforts. This could be a great opportunity to use discretionary funding to respond to unanticipated opportunities made possible through this evaluation exercise.

If an advocacy grantee finds that many assumptions were pretty far from reality, you may want to meet with the grantee to revise the strategy. Let the grantee know that it is acceptable to have a conversation about false assumptions. Indeed, if you and your grantee fail to address these missing pieces, the alternative is wasted funds and time. Help the grantee understand that you share their desire to have the funds used well, even if that means significant revisions to the original plan of action.


  • Assumptions can lead to three possible results; be prepared to respond to any of the three from your grantee.
  • If assumptions were not completely wrong but slightly off, a shift in strategy might allow you to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities. If you can be flexible with grantees, acting on these results could lead to much more effective advocacy.