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  • Paul Mone

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Political Actions

The effectiveness of a political action / strategy can be evaluated on three levels. 1. THE ACTION ACHIEVES THE DESIRED OUTCOME

The most common way to determine the effectiveness of political action is on whether it achieves its outcome(s). For example, let's say 100 people show up to a political rally, stay for the duration, and leave afterwards without any further engagement. If the desired outcome was just to get a turnout of more than 50 people, then the action was effective. If the desired outcome was to get some of the people signed up to a newsletter, or to commit to coming to a meeting, or some further action, then this action was ineffective.


2. THE ACTION IS CONSISTENT WITH A LONG-TERM STRATEGIC PLAN A group of activists stage a sit-in protest in a company's lobby, and their immediate goals are to draw media attention to the campaign so as to increase awareness of their cause, and to deepen in-group bonds between the activists. The activists have the longer-term strategic goal of increasing their membership - convincing other activists to join. Let's imagine that the media show up and report on the sit-in, but the action garners largely negative attention, and that very few people sign up to the organisation in the months following the action. We can view the action as being effective in two of its immediate goals (media attention, in-group bonds), but ineffective in the long term strategic goal of gaining new members. Of course, if, due to the unpopularity of the action among members of the public, members of the group leave, then over time even its initial goals may be retroactively unsuccessful.

3. THE ACTIONS AND STRATEGY ARE CONSISTENT WITH A ROBUST THEORY OF CHANGE I used 'draw media attention' above because it is a commonly articulated goal which is underpinned by an unconscious, and incorrect, theory of change - namely that change happens when people become aware of an issue, and thus the more dramatic the action, the more corresponding media coverage, and the greater chance that people will become aware of, and join, your cause. Although this can happen, it isn't often borne out in practice. (I'll devote another post to theory underlying specific tactics elsewhere). This isn't to say that awareness / media attention isn't important - but it depends what you're doing with that increased awareness. Even if we change 'draw media attention' to 'garner positive public support', it's still not enough. The same theory of change underlies this tactical goal - awareness breeds action. There isn't the strong link here that many new activists think there is, as anyone who has worked on a long-term campaign will attest. The action may have been successful in terms of the immediate goals, but the long term strategy the campaign tactics because the theory of change is unexamined and inconsistent with reality.

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