How 9 Leading Nonprofits Evaluate Policy Advocacy

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June 27, 2013; Oxfam America


Nine leading advocacy organizations just released a collaborative comparative review of their approaches to how they measure the effectiveness of their policy advocacy and campaigning.

Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning in NGO Advocacy: Findings from Comparative Policy (the MEL Review Project) was published by Oxfam America on behalf of itself and eight other nonprofits that participated in the study: ONE, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Action Aid, Amnesty International, CARE USA, Bread for the World, and Oxfam Great Britain.

The goal was to explore how these organizations measure their reach, access, and influence—in short, the efficacy of their advocacy efforts. They asked campaigners, senior leadership, and evaluation staff what they thought about their monitoring and evaluation systems, did in-depth interviews with evaluation staff, and reviewed assessment tools used by each organization.

The report shows innovations in the field of advocacy evaluation, raises some cautionary notes, and poses 12 principles for good practice in policy advocacy monitoring and evaluation. Key findings include:

  • They are getting better at setting and measuring objectives.
  • The basic “architecture” of their monitoring and evaluation systems combines some form of theory of change with stocktaking.
  • They are collecting and analyzing a lot more data than in the past.
  • Processes are more formalized now.
  • There is a strong correlation between senior leadership engagement and quality systems.

The study challenged the nine organizations to ask themselves, “when does a focus on near-term, quantifiable results and ‘upward’ accountability to funders and senior managers crowd out strategic learning and more robust transparency and accountability?”

This effort is an indication of the growing sophistication of nonprofit advocacy, to the point where monitoring and evaluation are critical to long-term success and essential to providing funders with the information they need to justify supporting it. It is a key component to effective advocacy, not only for large non-profits like those that participated in this study, but for smaller community-based agencies, too.—Larry Kaplan