Evaluating Advocacy Efforts: How Do You Measure Social Change?

Clime change protest

Here at CRC, we’re always fans of measuring the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons. And that includes measuring advocacy efforts. You may think that measuring advocacy efforts and social change movements is impossible. It’s definitely true that it can be challenging to do because evaluating advocacy is very different from evaluating direct service work. The theory of change is going to be more complex, and it’s harder to identify the direct links from your advocacy activities to people’s responses.

Collecting information about your campaigns and activities often involves tracking web analytics and responses to mail and other campaigns directly. But before you start putting together a dashboard of your Google Analytics data, start by thinking about what you want to know and why. To really understand what’s going on, you will likely need to talk to actual people as well as looking at your analytics.

But before doing anything, know what you are looking for. Following are some key questions to ask yourself as you begin to think about tracking your efforts, and learning about if your campaign is creating change and what impact it may have.

In the early stage of a project it’s unclear what is happening, what the campaign looks like, and how it’s being received by the audience. Before you think about whether your campaign is creating change, think about what you are saying, how it’s coming across, and if it’s getting to the right people. Key questions in the earliest stage might be: 1. Where are my messages appearing? Where are they being read? 2. What is the audience’s initial response? 3. What channels are getting the best response?

Once your message has been received, you can move on to thinking about how the audience is interacting with that message. Questions you can also ask while it’s still early on include: 1. Does my audience really understand my message? 2. Is my audience engaging? 3. How much are they engaging?

For larger campaigns, where you have the resources to dig deep and find out more about how your messaging is changing attitudes, behaviors, and policies. Questions you might ask at this stage are: 1. Is my audience more informed about the issue? 2. Am I shifting public opinion? 3. Have any policy changes been made? Can I attribute these to my work? 4. Has media coverage of the issue changed?

Finally, once you’ve answered those questions, you can begin to ask yourself why you are seeing the trends in the data, and whether the data indicates that you are having the impact you seek or not. Questions to ask in an ongoing strategy include: 1. If audiences aren’t engaging, why aren’t they? If they are, what connected with them? 2. Do I need to make changes in my messages or messengers? 3. Did I target the right media outlets? 4. What unexpected events, news, or societal shifts have occurred? How might they impact my message/goals? 5. What lessons am I learning and how can I document them?

Being thoughtful about what questions you want to ask can help ensure you’re looking at the right information, and not just the information that is most readily available.

Stay tuned for our upcoming blog about some useful methods to use to collect data on advocacy efforts.

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