During the life of a campaign many things can happen that might have an effect, whatever big or small, on its course. Developments outside of one's control can make the campaigning objectives obsolete or the main actors irrelevant; they can bring new challenges and new allies. To ensure that these factors can be identified and that a campaigning plan can be adapted with speed and accuracy, monitoring and evaluating should be an integral part of the overall campaigning strategy.
What is monitoring and what is evaluating?
Monitoring is a continuous process of gathering and recording internal and external data. Evaluating is a periodic process of reviewing monitoring data and drawing conclusions from it.
Good monitoring is based on systematic and clear approach that is tied to the objectives of the campaign. For example, if one objective of a campaign for reforming media law is reaching a targeted number of members of the public through media coverage then campaigners should be tracking and filing all related media reports. If the specific 'SMART Objective' was to reach the target audience through one article every two months in one of the four major newspapers and to have an interview with the organisation's executive director on World Press Freedom Day then one would evaluate those reports by analysing the number of articles achieved and their texts to see if the coverage was favourable to the campaign message. In evaluating, the campaign team members would discuss how the approach (with respect to media) worked and what could be improved.
Similarly, one could assess the success of a press conference (one of the activities under the campaign) by analysing relevant data that has been collected through the monitoring process, such as:
- copy of the event press release (was the message on target?)
- text of the invitation to the press conference
- list of all the people and institutions invited, including their contact details
- documentation around how the invitation was sent and to whom it was addressed
- recorded number of responses; from where, how many attended; who attended (e.g. the director of an institution was invited but they sent their policy coordinator)
- media clippings and broadcast coverage of the event /issue
- reactions of target audiences or stakeholders (such local politicians, a foreign embassy) including analysis of the form of stakeholder response: public (press releases, public declarations) or private (letters to the organisation)
- reactions of the organisation's partners or members (emails of compliant or congratulation, requests for materials or for setting meetings).
When and how to monitor and evaluate
It is important that as the design of a campaign strategy is underway, the methodology for monitoring and evaluating is identified too. Thus, at every step of the campaigning cycle and within the plan for each activity, it is known what data will be collected and when opportunities will be built in for evaluation to ensure that the strategy is still on target.
Establishing the relevant data for collection should be undertaken during the strategy-building process. The monitoring and data collection could relate to the broad objectives of a campaign – for example, if the goal is to have a media law reformed by the end of the year, it might be possible to monitor whether there have been changes in votes or stated opinions of parliamentary committee members overseeing the Bill over a given time period. This type of broad monitoring (e.g. around progress on outcomes or impacts) will indicate if there has been progress in influencing the key decision-makers. As well, rigorous monitoring and data collection could be undertaken with respect to a specific activity, such as measuring whether an information session on the bill was effectively organized. In that case one could measure how many people were convened; whether notes were distributed and to whom; and if participants expressed interest in receiving follow up information.
Once the relevant data is collected, it needs to be evaluated in order to establish lessons learned and to make the changes necessary to secure the success of a campaign. Continuous and systematic evaluation can take many parallel forms, including:
- weekly staff meetings
- periodic meetings of the campaign manager with her/his managers
- meetings of external “advisory bodies”
For this form of evaluation to be effective, evaluators will need the monitoring results, such as copies of the newspaper articles, a report on the latest parliamentary developments, and letters sent by the organisation to ministers and partners. From all this data it might be concluded that a review of the campaigning strategy is in order. At this juncture, there may be new opportunities or developments that were not there at inception of the campaign strategy. It may now be the right time to ask for a meeting with the recently appointed minister of information while maintaining good relations with the former minister adviser. Perhaps an actor or a singer who can be a popular supporter of our campaign has been identified. Maybe there is window of opportunity to build momentum behind the campaigning message due to an external factor that can be taken advantage of; for example: reports of the misuse of foreign aid after a natural disaster have created a public mood for transparency and access to information that wasn´t there when the campaign began.
Similarly, campaigning objectives need to be reviewed in case there are mounting challenges to one's efforts. An unexpected alliance of parliamentarians could be creating a barrier to the media law reform; perhaps internal problems within an partner or ally organisation are slowing down progress on activities or the public mood or sympathy toward journalists has shifted following a reporting scandal.
Challenges to watch out for
Monitoring and evaluating are not simple processes. They can be expensive and require time and human resources. It can be difficult to find objective data and to determine the link between the campaign undertaken and the result. Did the minister change her position on the campaign issue because of the various meetings that you had with her? Is the latest poll on the public reaction to the campaign´s issue really true or has it been manipulated towards the political bias of the newspaper running the story? Can the organisation afford the staff time to gather and file all the information needed?
If one tries to answer all these potential questions it might be tempting to give up on monitoring and evaluating. Thus, in order for it to work, monitoring and evaluation should be kept simple and relevant to the campaign´s objectives. And, where possible both processes should be integrated into the on-going work of the organisations or identify where this is already taking place, such as staff meetings or reports.
It's not necessary to monitor every topic under the broad area of freedom of expression, thus it's better to select the most relevant indicators for monitoring based on the campaign objectives (see SMART OBJECTIVES chapter). It can be most helpful to keep records and monitor the responses of the main targets – the media, public or key decision-makers - to establish whether the campaign is reaching them or not. As a rule of thumb, it's a good idea to aim for gathering enough information to draw a reasonable conclusion around impacts but it's not necessary to collect the data required for an academic paper or a legal defense.
It helps to identify someone to take responsibility for this area of work. The same way that it is always clear who will manage a project budget, it should be clear who is in charge of monitoring and evaluating the campaign strategy either personally or coordinating the overall exercise. A specific budget line for this should be set aside for this as well.
A campaign does not happen in a vacuum but in the real world, which is the world campaigners seek to change. A campaign asks for concrete outcomes from particular people in a defined social and political environment. All of these factors can change, which one cannot afford to ignore when aiming to reach the objectives and achieve the impact that will change people´s lives.
By Rafael Barca - expert consultant on campaigning and organisational strategic development