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

12 February 2011

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.