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 always as straightforward as it sounds.
This kind of approach can easily risk disadvantaging advocacy and campaigning relative to more direct interventions.
This is because in value terms, advocacy is an iceberg. The most signficant results are submerged, sub-aquatic. The natural temptation is to focus only on the visible part, but this risks creating a false picture.
Advocacy isn’t just about who wins out in arguments about a particular policy. It can go way beyond this to tackling structural blockages to change. It’s about how issues are framed, whose agendas are recognised, who gets a seat at the table, and whose voices are heard and whose are excluded.
Going beyond policy change, advocacy can be about facilitating wider participation in political processes, challenging power dynamics and ensuring that people’s rights are understood and upheld in ways that are then locked into future processes.
But these are all areas of advocacy and campaigning that can be neglected in more reductionist ways of thinking about ‘value’ that focus on the more obviously visible elements.
The more tangible advocacy results tend to be far away from the real value, far away from actual change, and so comparatively unimpressive when offered in evidence that advocacy and campaigning is delivering meaningful outcomes.
In addressing these challenges, we think it’s important to strengthen the conceptual basis for thinking about advocacy and campaigning value as well as the evidence base on which assessments are made.
Suggestions we make include that
- Organisational decisions about campaigning and advocacy should be grounded in an explictly-set-out understanding of that organisation’s role and capacity for influence.
- Approaches to assessing relative value – between campaigning and other programme choices, but also between different campaigns – should be sufficiently nuanced to avoid privileging more straightforward, shorter-term, less ambitious campaigns.
- Organisations should develop reflective processes tthat promote critical analysis and draw on it to inform future strategy.
- Multi-directional accountability should be embedded in advocacy planning and evaluation, and wider audiences involved in determining what’s important, and what results are meaningful. This would help mediate senior leaders’ and funders’ likely interest in the ‘results’ side of things.
- The sector could helpfully collate an evidence base of campaigning impact, as a resource showing the ‘value’ of campaigning in macro terms.
- More coud be done to draw on evidence from across evaluations to help develop thinking about ‘what works’.