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How do I evaluate a policy?

Agencies are increasingly engaging in advocacy and policy change efforts to achieve more systemic and lasting effect than direct service delivery. This type of work brings evaluation challenges. Evaluators need different skills, processes and options to evaluate policy than those developed in assessing direct services.

There are a number of guides and papers that can assist in developing an evaluation strategy for policy and advocacy change.

The Overseas Development Institute developed a ‘Guide to monitoring and evaluating policy influence’ in February 2011. The paper provides an overview of approaches to monitoring and evaluating policy influence. The paper presents lessons, tools, outlines challenges and approaches and includes suggestions for further reading.

The Harvard Family Research Project’s Evaluation Exchange focused on Advocacy and Policy Change in the 2007 edition. The periodical describes developments in evaluating advocacy and policy change efforts that attempt to inform or influence public policy at the local, state, or federal levels. Relevant articles in the edition include:

  • An introduction to the issue on Advocacy and Policy Change
  • What's Different About Evaluating Advocacy and Policy Change?
  • Strategies for Assessing Policy Change Efforts: A Prospective Approach
  • Evaluation Based on Theories of the Policy Process
  • Working With Logic Models to Evaluate a Policy and Advocacy Program
  • Necessity Leads to Innovative Evaluation Approach and Practice
  • Pioneers in the Field: Four Foundations on Advocacy Evaluation
  • What does monitoring and evaluation look like for real-life advocates?
  • Evaluating Nonprofit Advocacy Simply: An Oxymoron?
  • Continuous Progress: Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
  • A Guide to Measuring Advocacy and Policy
  • Using and Evaluating Social Media for Social Change
  • The eNonprofit Benchmarks Study: Diving Into Email Metrics
  • Constituency Building and Policy Work: Three Paradigms
  • An Emerging Framework for Assessing Nonprofit Networks
  • Evaluating an Issue's Position on the Policy Agenda: The Bellwether Methodology
  • Evaluating Advocates' Spheres of Influence With Domain Leaders
  • Ten Takeaways on Evaluating Advocacy and Policy Change

The California Endowment developed a publication on the challenges of assessing policy and advocacy activities in 2005. The guide provides a staged approach to the prospective evaluation of policy and advocacy. In addition, the publication provides seven guiding principles for policy evaluation:

  1. Expand the perception of policy work beyond state and federal legislative arenas.
  2. Build an evaluation framework around a theory about how a group’s activities are expected to lead to its long-term outcomes.
  3. Focus monitoring and impact assessment for most grantees and initiatives on the steps that lay the groundwork and contribute to the policy change being sought.
  4. Include outcomes that involve building grantee capacity to become more effective advocates.
  5. Focus on the foundation’s and grantee’s contribution, not attribution.
  6. Emphasize organizational learning as the overarching goal of evaluation for both the grantee and the foundation.
  7. Build grantee capacity to conduct self-evaluation.


The Participatory Planning, Monitoring and evaluation portal of the Wageningen University includes details of 14 resources on Participatory Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation of Lobby, Advocacy & Policy Change. (archived link). More resources can be found at the new website, Managing for Impact. 

Carol Weiss delivered a keynote speech to the conference of the European Evaluation Society in Rome in 1999 on the interface between Evaluation and Public Policy. The elaboration of the speech is available as an article in the Evaluation journal. She outlines how evaluation can challenge old ideas, provide new perspectives and help to re-order the policy agenda. Effective policy change is more likely when it receives support from policy champions.