The Evalu-ization* of Advocacy

By Rhonda Schlangen and Jim Coe

We received dozens of questions in advance of a webinar organized by the Advocacy Accelerator on the ideas in our paper, No Royal Road: Finding and Following the Natural Pathways in Advocacy Evaluation. The sheer volume of the questions points to an incredible pent up demand for solutions to evaluate advocacy. But the nature of many of the questions – focusing on indicators, for example, or how to attribute results – also points to the persistent focus on how to make advocacy fit within the contours of traditional evaluation. It is precisely this entrenched focus on “evalu-ization” of advocacy that we’re pushing against in the paper.

Social and policy change is complex, and influencing it through advocacy is a dynamic, adaptive, complicated process. Therefore, like many complex change processes, it does not lend itself to simple measurement promised by some more traditional evaluation approaches. The inherent uncertainty and unpredictability of advocacy means that rather than searching for this non-existent “royal road”, we should be following the natural pathways of advocacy.

We discuss tactics to streamline and calibrate MEL for advocacy by:

  1. Recognizing unpredictability, for example by using problem-centered strategy development.
  2. Embracing uncertainty about results by getting the best information we can given the resources we have, and make reasoned claims on the basis of it.
  3. Thinking about contribution differently, for example by exploring different advocacy roles and understanding how well they have been played when analyzing contribution
  4. Resisting rogue indicators that drive activities and outputs rather than illuminate outcomes and instead interrogate progress against multiple dimensions of change.
  5. Doing the basic things well, by ensuring advocates have the time and space to consider, think about, deliberate and interpret information about their work.

What’s practically useful to effective advocacy can be at odds with more traditional and formal evaluation practices. The orientation to formal, complicated, and resource-intensive processes risks privileging approaches that are out of reach to all but the best-resourced civil society organizations and campaigns.

Everyone involved in MEL — funders, senior managers and boards, advocacy practitioners, and evaluators — has a role to play in helping ensure it is oriented and supported in a way that is grounded in the way advocacy influences change. All need to help build a culture of critical reflection and adaptation in response, which will ensure MEL efforts contribute to more effective advocacy.


*h/t to Pierre Basimise Ngalishi Kanyegere for his From Poverty to Power blog post “The NGO-ization of Research: What are the Risks” and others concerned about the effects of professionalization and bureaucratization of social change and other civil society work. See


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