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An introductory guide to evidence based influence -but don’t forget the context

The Open Society Institute has published a guide on advocacy that may be very useful for think tanks.

The steps suggested are very similar to the ones in the RAPID Outcome Mapping Approach, but I would include an often forgotten first step:

To really understand the policy making process, environment and the its key players. This can be done following a political economy analysis of the policy issue or problem -or even undertaking a political economy analysis of evidence uptake for the particular policy issue.  Other tools like social network analysis, influence mapping, etc. may be useful.

This ‘step zero’ was incorporated into ROMA (it is not in the link above) last year when we decided that users were getting too focused on following steps rather than thinking about why some strategies may be more appropriate than others.

In fact, we tested this new step at a workshop in Uganda organised by the Danish Development Research Network to help universities across Africa make a better case for more investment in tertiary education. The objective of the step is to encourage a discussion rather than a box-filling exercise.

The idea is that teams should start the planning process by establishing a vision (how the future looks like and the particular role that they play in this future world and in relation to other relevant actors), considering the way change takes place (using theories or examples to illustrate this and highlighting the role various actors), and reflecting on their organisations’ own nature and competencies (and their relation to others).

The teams are then encouraged to discuss these issues along side each other, allowing the answers for each to influence and revise the others.

This process reflects the nature of policy change and influence –slightly chaotic and iterative, strengthened by feedback loops. Out of this discussion, policy objectives, details of the context, key actors, possible approaches to influence, risks and opportunities, etc. should emerge. In some cases, this is all that will be necessary and no greater detail has to be sought.

For example, last year I had a chat with the director of a think tank in Ecuador  about this. After a few minutes we were able to establish that in their policy context, environmental policy, policymaking tends to be quite legalistic -policy change happening as the consequences of legal challenges from communities, local governments and NGOs. The organisation itself is staffed by lawyers and legally trained people who are able to tackle these issues. To contribute to change then their best way forward is to undertake three lines of work: research and analysis of possible issues to be addressed, training and advice to local communities and governments, and working with the media to raise awareness about the issues and legal challenges.

The ROMA process (or the one suggested by OSI) can then kick in: define the policy objectives, study the context, identify and assess the position of key actors, establish specific policy objectives for them, develop a strategy, consider the resources and capacities necessary to implement the strategy and develop a monitoring, learning and evaluation framework.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Emma #


    Great note and great-looking new site!

    As you know, the Evidence-Based Policy in Development Network is currently doing preliminary work to inform the ‘non-step’ zero (my personal opinion is that the more this is framed as a ‘step’ rather than an absolute prerequisite to any policy influencing work the better)
    in Sub-Saharan Africa. In relation to this, what strikes me is that the policy context (i.e. its constituent parts) is often very well-understood – the need for an explicit ‘step’ for to map policy context is more useful for donors – but is simply not recognised in terms such as ‘policy context’. Engaging people working to influence policy are likely to be thrown by the term, and a fruitful response is (I daresay) relatively unlikely. Many of these tools elucidate what is thought to be the ‘correct’ reply, when what is needed is the truthful one which taps into the huge amounts of knowledge people possess about their ‘contexts’.

    A major question, therefore, is how to get (for instance) Africans to apply what they ‘know’ (live, experience – this is often dormant or tacit knowledge) when prompted by questions about ‘context’, ‘actors’, etc. It is very easy to describe policy context; but less easy to explain its dynamics in relation to a lived social, political and economic culture.

    This is slightly off-the-cuff and an instant reaction, but would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this.


    February 12, 2011
    • Thanks for that Emma. You are right. A great deal of this is known by people who are involved in a particular policy space. Writing it down is often something that make more sense as a tool to keep funders (externals) happy. And it is certainly useful for donor and other players keen to influence a space they do not know well enough. I recently talked to a director a of a very innovative project in Peru aimed at influencing the electoral process and he explained that they did not have a logframe or strategic plan document; however, they did talk it through and debated the objectives of the initiative, its opportunities risks, etc. In his words, nothing was improvised. Equally, the CEO of a successful european economic think net would argue that it is not necessary to articulate a strategic plan: all they need is a clear mission and to ensure that all activities contribute towards it -and if everyone knows what their objectives are there should not be any problems with ensuring co-ordination and co-operation.

      This is exactly what this non-step zero is intended to do -and I believe that it worked when we tried it in Uganda: make tacit knowledge explicit. There is no need to fill boxes, use jargon, fit ideas into pre-established concepts. In fact, one would hope that the conversations would be had in whatever is the group’s mother tongue. This is particularly important when working in teams within an organisation or in coalitions and when not all participants have the same knowledge on the issue.

      So what we offer is nothing more that simple prompts: a suggestion to discuss these issues in relation to key players or actors (because we believe that there are fundamentally people centred processes).

      Beyond that, if it is necessary and useful (and I think it is useful to, at least, write it down so that one can monitor progress and learn from the experience) one can follow all or some of the next steps to add detail to the strategy.

      February 12, 2011

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