What the data can tell us

In his book Analytic Activism, Dave Karpf looks at how information from digital media feeds into decisions about tactics, strategy and power. The book sets out how data is, and could be, used at these different levels – 1/ Tactics Data can be particularly useful when considering tactical choices. Developing your approaches through testing is better than relying on intuition, which is often wrong. But even at this level, it’s still easy to focus on the wrong metrics. Measures such as supporter base size, or numbers taking action, can be deceptive, and may not tell you what you actually...

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More is less

In the Ramones documentary, End of The Century, there’s an interview with Johnny about working with producer Phil Spector. Talking about recording the opening chord to ‘Rock’n’Roll High School’ he says, about Spector, “he spent 12 hours listening to it over and over again … [in the end] the chord came out sounding ok, but 12 hours’ worth ain’t really worth it”. I felt a bit the same not so long ago when – as part of some advocacy evaluation work I was doing for an international NGO – I read through their reporting documents. Just taking one year’s reporting –...

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The value iceberg

This post sets out some of the arguments from a discussion paper I have co-written with Rhonda Schlangen, recently published by BetterEvaluation. The paper itself, and an associated blog, is available here.   Organisations have to make choices about how best to deploy resources. On the face of it, using Value for Money-type frameworks helps in making informed comparisons about the value of different potential strategies. It’s right to want to anchor campaigning and advocacy to assessments that are as rigorous as possible. But applying a value lens to advocacy and campaign it isn’t...

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Theories of change vs dart throwing chimps

I wouldn’t ideally call it a ‘theory of change’, but I think it can be really helpful to develop – at an organisational level – a shared view of how change happens, the power dynamics at play, and the best ways to intervene. The absence of this sort of analysis can be problematic for many reasons, to do with what flows into this gap in understanding. However, it’s at the campaign level, not the organisational one, where ‘theories of change’ are all the rage these days. And, as a planning process and tool, the approach has some obvious advantages: It uncovers, and allows...

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Every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser

  The kid spread his hand and then began to blush But his face turned pale when he saw my queen-high flush   T Bone Walker there, describing how to play a winning hand of poker. Though in fact (a) he’s not actually talking about poker and (b) it’s rarely that simple. According to Nate Silver, in his book The Signal & The Noise, a good poker player can still be financially behind after tens of thousands of hands, if the cards go against you, at the unluckiest end of the spectrum. Good players are highly skilled, but it’s also about how the cards fall. So poker is a high...

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Glories and triumphs shrunk

The ‘results agenda’ – in its various manifestations – continues to gain momentum. ‘Results agenda’ is an umbrella term that means different things in different contexts but I think it’s fair to say there’s a common basic idea. It’s about gathering robust evidence about results and then focusing on ‘what works’. So far, so good you might say. In theory at least, it’s hard to see why anyone could object to that. But this deceptively simple concept gets a bit more problematic when applied to real situations. And that’s why critiques are burgeoning –...

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