In advocacy campaigns, as in most non-profit communication projects, measuring outcomes and evaluating successes is one of the key stages of both planning and execution. When seen through the prism of grant proposals, budgets and logframes, successes and failures are often seen as black and white, and any subtle undertones of the value our work may have brought can be lost. How can we, as advocates, trainers and curriculum developers, make sure that the valuable isn't missed?
This question was on my mind a lot during our week of intense collaboration in Marseille as we came together to brainstorm and sketch the blurry outlines of what will one day soon become a set of guidelines for digital advocacy in the Global South. As we tackled this beast of a task, I found myself in awe of the powerful personalities jammed into a smallish room together, all putting their experiences, their knowledge—and their hearts—into our project. As we talked about the various aspects of the guide, measuring value also came up. And I thought: in a way, isn't our workshop itself an exercise in identifying and communicating value? Because of course it was.
What is the value of a group of powerful women coming together for five days? What is the value of having the support of a great core project team? The value of not having to worry about food or coffee because it has been graciously provided and arranged for, so you can just do your work? Huge.
But the value also lies in ourselves and our lived experiences, our voices and the stories we shared, which helped shape the scaffolding of what will be our guide. As we talked, we communicated what we thought was valuable in the work we had done, critiqued what we thought was less valuable, discussed differences and commonalities. And every word, whether it ended up on sticky notes and flipcharts or not, was valuable because it shaped our flow of thoughts and helped us develop our ideas.
We discussed how our concepts of success and failure are often shaped by grant proposal outcomes and donor policies, and how we can move past that to learn to see value from the point of view of people in communities we serve, volunteers we work with during campaigns, or our team members.
We shared how sometimes we know intiuitively where people on our team might find value and how we can see them showing it by simply continuing to do the work and taking initiative. We spoke about how to report value back to our various constituencies: how to contextualize success and failure with donors; how to sustain value in communities through feedback and practice; how to alternatively motivate our teams and volunteers through praise and reporting back on outcomes, especially when resources are scarce.
We wondered how to get people to talk about, define, measure, and communicate value in the course of advocacy projects. Some of the suggested approaches involved sharing stories, soliciting definitions, deconstructing and mapping notions—and, of course, we did all of these in the five days we spent together. We shared, we defined, we deconstructed and mapped—and ended up with an immense amount of valuable information, thoughts, ideas and emotions that then became the foundation of our group product.
One of the rules-of-thumb for identifying and communicating value during advocacy campaigns, especially in environments where methods such as interviews, focus groups or surveys aren't possible, is to document everything. Compiling a thick description of day-to-day activities, decisions, actions, outcomes, reactions, micro-successes and micro-failures is utterly important in order to then make sense of what it all means. Our five days in Marseille are captured in hundreds of post-it notes, dozens of flipchart sheets, daily oral summaries and dinner debates, the cornucopia of notes everyone took on paper, the blog posts (like this one) and the hackpads branching off from the main outline of the guide, growing like bamboo. Every scrap of colored paper, every scribbled list, every byte of information transferred to a digital state is infused with so much value: our stories, our dreams, our hopes and fears, the things we have lived through and the things we hope to achieve.
We ended our five days together with an exercise of appreciation: we sat in a circle where each of us spoke specifically about the value one or more other people brought to the workshop, making the common experience more powerful. As we spoke words of gratitude and recognition, I thought: this is what we're doing. We're communicating value. We're making an effort to indentify things that happened which were meaningful to us and explaining what exactly they meant and why they mattered. It was difficult at times to find precise words to describe one person's input or impact, but we worked to do it, and it felt so good to see our words make sense to others and become part of the larger meaning and weight behind the work we were doing together.
What is the value of a group of powerful women coming together for five days? What is the value of having the support of a great core project team? The value of hearing that your work means something and that your words and actions might have helped someone? Huge.