Skip navigation.
Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
Change text size: T | T | T | T

“Evaluation can have real formative value, not just summative. While it is important to look at results, evaluation can also help us learn how to do our work better. Since advocacy involves constant strategizing, we should position the evaluation to give real-time feedback that informs strategy decisions on an ongoing basis.”
— Julia Coffman, Harvard Family Research Project

Improving Practice or Improving Impact: Share the Story

Evaluation should first and foremost help you achieve your advocacy goals. You cannot evaluate everything, and you cannot report on everything. How do you choose your reporting priorities? The central idea behind Continuous Progress is that you seek reports that will help you

  1. detect progress towards your advocacy goals and correct your course of action when necessary; and
  2. learn and improve in needed areas, to strengthen your organizational capacity for advocacy effectiveness.

If you have established both capacity-building and advocacy goals and developed the appropriate benchmarks and indicators for each, you should be in a very strong position to determine what you have achieved. You might want to invest some time and resources in a thorough look at those activities -- success and failures -- where you think there are more learning opportunities for you and for your organization.

The results of your advocacy evaluation can serve additional purposes. Sharing what you are learning can contribute to a more productive relationship with your grantmaker. You and your grantmaker are both responsible for encouraging mutual learning and for openly disclosing reasons for success and failure, as well as you can. You can also share your lessons learned with members of your coalition and with others in the advocacy community. Doing so will make a unique and valuable contribution to improving the practice of policy advocacy

Attribution or contribution?
Sometimes you will want or need to discern attribution and clearly determine the impact of your advocacy program. How can you tell whether the goal was reached thanks exclusively or primarily to your organization's work? In advocacy, you might not be able to prove causality very often; the work is quite complex and there are many players involved. You can seek to learn about the effects of your actions by requesting feedback from those you intended to influence: your constituents, the media and policy makers, to mention a few. If your standard evaluation reports do not provide enough information about what happened, you can always ask more questions. Inquire about what happened, what did not, and why. Worst case scenario: You do not get the answer you were expecting, or you do not get an answer at all. But you could very well obtain invaluable feedback that you would not have had otherwise.

A note of caution about attribution. While we would all like to be able to attribute change fully to our efforts, that can often be a false claim. Claiming to make a contribution is more credible. And if your organization evinces a longer-term vision for your advocacy work, then the value of a critical contribution to a major success will fit perfectly. In fact, you may currently be conducting public education, constituency-building or other longer-term advocacy activities that lay the groundwork for sustainable policy change, based on your own theory of change. You can consider yourself successful if you have strong indications that your advocacy is contributing to developments consistent with your theory of change. The key here is to have a frank and realistic discussion with your team and with your grantmaker about how your advocacy work contributes towards the desired policy change and towards building the capacity to sustain your joint efforts over time.

Record, write and share your story
Evaluation lessons should be shared internally with your colleagues and your board. Share them with your grantmaker and with colleagues in the advocacy community. Consider sharing them with your constituents: It will help them feel part of results and let them know their involvement matters to you. But why share at all? It is true that advocacy work is difficult to replicate, because there are so many variables and external factors that do not remain constant. After all, how many times can advocates ask Sen. Hillary Clinton and actress Angelina Jolie to speak up on the same issue? Still, the story is worth telling: Sharing yours lessons can help others in your community of advocates who may face similar challenges. Here are some suggestions on how to obtain and share evaluation information:

  • Narrative evaluation reports: These will be most useful for your organization's staff, grantmakers and board.
  • Case studies, featuring quotes and interviews from the targets of your advocacy, your constituents, members of the community, and if possible, media representatives. Include photos and/or videos of rallies, gatherings, meetings, and visits with members of Congress.
  • Stories written by your constituents, accompanied by photos and/or video. Stories could be featured as journal entries on a blog that featured on your Web site.
  • Podcasts of interviews with targets of your advocacy and constituents.

The Summative Evaluation section will also help you think about how to share lessons learned at the conclusion of your advocacy activities.


  • Probe challenging questions until you get answers. Find out about what happened, what didn't, and why. Record your results, and discuss them with your team and with colleagues from other organizations. Next time you face a similar situation in a future advocacy campaign, you will be in a much stronger position.
  • The more open you are in sharing your successes and failures with others, the more other groups will be prone to do the same. It could be a win-win situation. Take the lead!
  • Solicit stories from your constituents. People like to be asked for their opinion, and many of them will be willing to share their photos, videos and stories with you. This is precious evaluation material that you don't have to collect yourself.