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Is it possible to evaluate influencing policy work?

Many third sector organisations are involved in trying to influence policy makers using the experience of, and giving a voice to the people who use their services.  But have you ever thought how you evaluate policy influencing work?

Evaluation involves setting outcomes, collecting and analysing evidence and using the results to report on the difference you make.  Is it the same for evaluating policy influence?

Policy influence is important but sometimes quite hidden work.  Showing we are making a difference is not easy.  Policy making is not a linear process, it’s complex, involves a lot of people, takes a long time and the context it is done in, can be ever changing.

To evaluate policy influencing activities first you need to understand what you want to change and the steps you might take. Those steps might be around developing relationships with key people, collecting evidence, raising awareness, then (as opportunties arise) advising/ lobbying or campaigning for change.  Creating a logic model is one way of doing this, and helps to identify your activities and your outcomes.   

Once you have a clear idea of activities and outcomes you can identify indicators and the methods to collect evidence.

But can you ever really know the difference you’ve made to policy? There are many players in the field so you are likely only to be able to say your organisation contributed.  Charting the Waters advises

If you can evidence how your activities lead to ‘better relationships’, ‘awareness’, attitudes/behaviours’ and ‘content’ outcomes, you can assume that you have contributed to better outcomes for ‘people’

In other words, chart the ‘smaller steps along the way’.

Other tips come from:

YouthLink Scotland, who suggest you make time to think and plan your evaluation. “This will serve your organisation and work more effective for the communities you work with”.

Families Outside’s advice is to collaborate. Together with others you can monitor progress. You don’t have to take the lead role, you can feed into collective evidence.

Community Health Exchange, a third sector intermediary organisation, suggests “asking you membership/beneficiaries for their views”. 

Read the full case studies of the organisations quoted above in ‘Charting the waters’ – a guide to evaluating policy influencing work. This publication will help you navigate this stormy area of evaluation.

‘Evidence for success’ is a useful guide to using evidence to influence policy and practice.  

This blog has been written by Jane Marryat, Research and Communications Officer, ESS