Over the past two decades, a robust field of advocacy and policy change evaluation has emerged. The field is now considering its future steps. Advocates, funders, and evaluators all play important roles, and all three have opportunities to realize significant improvements.
Advocates, no matter what their level of evaluation expertise, have advocacy evaluation resources to draw on and a track record of assessing the impact of their advocacy. Evaluators and funders are reflecting on how advocacy evaluation can better address inequitable power dynamics, as well as how to manage complexity and ambiguity. Integrating the perspectives of those doing the work, particularly the advocates themselves, is a critical component of this process.
While many excellent resources have been developed over the years, many of them have been written from an evaluators’ perspective, thereby potentially limiting their use by advocates. Past research indicated that most nonprofits did not evaluate their advocacy work, and those that did evaluate frequently faced significant hurdles to assessing their progress effectively and efficiently.
To better understand advocates’ perspectives and bridge the gap between their evaluation needs and the field of advocacy evaluation practice, this research surveyed U.S. nonprofit advocates about their advocacy practices and experiences with evaluation.
Six questions were explored:
- How common is it for advocates to evaluate their work?
- Why do advocates evaluate their efforts?
- What evaluation methods do they use, and which methods are most useful?
- What challenges or barriers do advocates face with regard to evaluation?
- What types of evaluation resources would they find most helpful to address these challenges?
- How is nonprofit advocacy changing, and what does this mean for advocacy evaluation?
This study offers recommendations on advocate-focused evaluation practices and aims. It updates and deepens our understanding of nonprofit advocates’ capacity to evaluate their advocacy, and assesses their strategies and tactics. Recommendations include, for example, partnering with nonprofit advocates early on to identify evaluation gaps and resources that will result in tailored evaluation capacity building resources to meet advocates where they are.