Guide | Using evidence for advocacy

Key issues to consider when turning data into evidence for advocacy...

In the same way data can be converted into intelligence to be applied to decision-making or planning, it can be used to create evidence, to demonstrate the range of impacts an organisation or an activity delivers. To be truly effective in advocacy this evidence needs to have a specific purpose and be targeted to address the needs of stakeholders, supporters, policy-makers or politicians. The format of that data and evidence and the method of its delivery is equally important to ensure successful advocacy.

Be clear about your purpose

Advocacy actions are most usually directed at decision makers who hold the power, often to implement a change in policy or law. Advocacy can also be about changing public opinion to support an issue or cause, or take a specific form of action to put pressure on decision makers or actively demonstrate support.

When planning for advocacy be clear about which of these changes you wish to make, and with which bodies or individuals, in order to collect and present the right evidence. Saying ‘we’re good for our local area’ may be accurate but is not helpful in changing opinions. More specific statements that address local concerns or agendas and that are robustly substantiated can be more useful. For instance:

  • demonstrating an organisation’s social, economic or artistic impact,
  • showing how you contribute to place-making, regeneration or neighbourhood renewal plans
  • how your activity is improving literacy at Key Stage 2, employability of 16-18 year olds or technical skills for those working in your sector.

Much of the data, evaluation and qualitative feedback you already capture can probably be applied to these purposes but it will need careful selection (think pithy statements not lengthy reports) and to show its source (often best as footnotes). Data gathering solutions will need to be put in place for impacts you cannot automatically evidence. This broad, public education style of advocacy could take the form of an annual report for stakeholders, a page on your website for audiences or a presentation to local councillors.

Human stories work well to illustrate a particular impact but most funders or politicians will also require the statistical evidence behind this and to be assured it is robust and credible. The best ‘making the case’ evidence is often that which combines the personal and the universal, quantitative and qualitative data, to tell a rounded and compelling story as succinctly as possible. Third-party testimony is also important to provide external validation whether peer assessment of artistic quality, visitor feedback on service or local business support. And think of evidence as transmittable: to the point, easy to digest and shareable; for instance the infographic, the killer stat or the compelling personal testimony uploaded to YouTube.

Stakeholders and funders require monitoring of their investment but they also to want to hear of success. ‘Make friends not demands’ is a good guiding principle here. Treating them as partners - involving them appropriately from collection through to dissemination – will serve your advocacy well. Advocacy becomes more compelling and can have a greater reach when it is delivered by others on your behalf. But it needs to start with strong data collection systems in place that are reviewed regularly to ensure they are still meeting your stakeholders’ changing needs and your evolving messages.