From Across the Pond – US approaches to planning and evaluating campaigns

I’m in the US this week linking up with various advocacy organisations, so I’m going to use the posts this week to highlight some the interesting work that’s coming out of the US about planning and evaluating advocacy.

Much of it has been driven by a desire by some of the large foundations (who are major donors to the work of US charities) to develop an approach that helps them to asses the quality of the applications they receive from organisations.

The first resource I’d flag up is ‘Campaigning For Change; Learning from the United States’. I’ve read it twice now and I have to confess to still not understood it all, but that’s not because it’s badly written, but simply because of the complexity and breadth of the topic it’s trying to address. Proving if you’re campaign is making a difference.

But I’m going to persevere because I think so much of the insight and the models it shares will be invaluable to UK campaigning. I know that I’ve lost count of all the times that I’ve been asked the question ‘is your campaign making a difference’ and then struggled to answer it, and I think this tool could help to answer that. The report shares lessons about how US organisations have used a ‘Theory of Change’ model to inform their advocacy planning over a number of years.

A Theory of Change (TOC) can be defined as ‘laying out what specific changes a group wants to see in the world and how and why a group expects its actions to lead to those changes’

A TOC is built on the basics of the Logic Model, but encourages organisation to develop an understanding of what is required for change to take place and what strategies will be used along the way, and to think about the links about how the activities undertaken and the end goals based on insight from political and social thinking. The main elements are;

1 – Stating a clear aim
The TOC encourage you to start with a clear aim, which should be seen as the overall purpose of the campaign, the change a organisaiton wishes to see and the impact it wants to make.

2 – Mapping activities to achieve your campaign aim
Examining what activities will bring about the campaign aim, and being clear how they link to the end goal you’re looking to achieve. At this point it’s about considering activities, like a creating the political will for change or developing of alliances as opposed to considering the detailed tactics (holding a march, running an advertising campaign, etc).

3 – Outcomes and how to get there – Using ‘so that’ chains
This stage of the process is about being clear about how each of the activities will link together, it encourages the use of ‘So That’ chains to check the validity of a set of specific assumptions by looking at the logical links between the different steps of the campaign. This allows you to link specific activities with the expected effect or outcome in the journey towards the desired result, and provides a space to challenge the assumptions that you might make.

4 – Understanding how social change happens
Central to TOC is an understanding of what strategies bring about what types of social change. Ensuring that the types of activities being undertaken match the overall strategy being pursued is important. The paper draws out a number of different reasons for how change happens based on academic studies and approaches. This can be used for the basis of a diagrammatic strategy to show the journey that you believe your campaign will undertake.

5 – Capacity of the organisation to achieve change
By doing the above, a TOC can help to illustrate the elements that an organisation will need to ensure they have the capacity to carry out their strategy.

6 – Evaluation built into the model
By articulating the change desired and the anticipated process that you’ll undertake to achieve it, you’re able to evaluate throughout the process, and also provide a space to question if the assumptions that were made are correct or not.

It’s hard to summarise the model in a few hundred words, so I’d strongly encourage you to read the report, or look at the  Brian Lamb’s presentation at the NCVO Campaigning effectiveness conference.

Part of me really likes this approach;

  • It ensures that assumptions about the value of a specific tactic or approach are discussed and understood by all involved.
  • Requires organisations to consider how they understand about what brings about social change, especially important when trying to communicate about the rationale behind the tactics that have been selected in a large organisation, where not everyone is an advocacy specialist.
  • Challenges a ‘one size fits all’ approach to deciding on campaign tactics because they’ve always been used.
  • It puts evaluation at the heart of the process, so it’s easier to monitor the ‘impact’ that the advocacy is having.

But I’ve also got a few reservations about it;

  • The model isn’t the easiest to get your head around which might turn some away from looking to use it. I hope that NCVO are considering offering further training about implementing it.
  • I’m not clear from the report what about the role and place for considering the external environment is. It seems that the model doesn’t have an obvious space for exploring what’s happening outside of the organisation/campaign. I don’t think we should be putting down the PEST charts yet!
  • Will it work for national advocacy campaigns? Most of the models quoted in the report are based on statewide or local public awareness campaign, where the required outcomes and results don’t require the activities

Have you used this model in your advocacy planning? Does using such a tool appeal to you or does the complexity make you switch off?

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