Now we have another general election around the corner, many charities will be gearing up to get their causes up the policy agenda. As the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities recently acknowledged, the advocacy role charities play is ‘vital’. So it’s really important that confusion and fear about the rules do not ‘chill’ charities’ fighting spirit. With purdah starting on Saturday, charities will need to be cautious but not cowed by legislation around what they can and can’t do politically.

It’s also important that charities are rigorous and robust when measuring the impact of their campaigning. Because this is key to learning and improving, and enabling them to eventually bring about change. But how can they do so in such a complex environment?

Navigate different routes—and measure the impact of each one.

These days, the inside track is not enough. Yes, policymakers are going to change the law, but they care what the public think, what the media are saying, and what organisations are doing. But how do you prioritise who to target and which tactics to use? And how do you know what’s working?

Start by creating a theory of change. We’ve found that describing outcomes for the public, the media, and policymakers helps campaigning charities to see how different audiences interact and influence each other to change things. Your theory of change diagram won’t be linear, but it will force you to identify key links between your activities and their outcomes. And it will help you plot the different routes to your goal.

You can then use this to decide what to measure. You’ll need different tools for different tactics. To understand how your campaign has influenced policymakers, you can use policy trackers, parliamentary monitoringbellwether, or stakeholder interviews. But for the impact on the public, media monitoring and attitude surveys may be the right thing. Remember, you need to measure outcomes, like attitude change or better understanding of an issue—not just outputs, like numbers of supporters.

Articulate how your campaign creates change.

How campaigns create change is diverse and complex—so state your assumptions in your theory of change. You need to know how you think your campaign is going to achieve attitude change or move an issue up the policy agenda. That’s key to testing whether or not you’re making it happen.

As policy windows open or world events affect public opinion, you may use alternative tactics and prioritise different outcomes. I don’t need to tell any campaigner to be flexible and react to change. But make sure you’re applying this approach to your measurement too: hold regular debriefs to test whether you’re measuring the right thing, and learn from your measures to inform your strategy.

Forget attribution. Talk about contribution.

Campaigners rarely work alone because others are often advocating for the same goal. This makes it more likely that change will occur. But it does make it more difficult to attribute change specifically to your campaign.

Try to ask about how your campaign has influenced people in interviews and surveys, hold regular internal debriefs about your impact, and capture any impact anecdotes you hear in a spreadsheet. These can all help to build a picture of your contribution.

Once you’ve established your impact, use it to tell your story. It will help give you credibility with your supporters and the public—and no doubt your funders. Most importantly, use it to inform your knowledge of what works, so you can make an even greater impact next time.

We will be publishing new work on this topic later this year. Meanwhile, take a look at our guide Closing in on change for more on measuring the impact of campaigning.

What do you think? How are you measuring the impact of your campaigns? Let us know in the comments.

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