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Advocacy is crucial to bring about societal changes. However, monitoring and evaluating advocacy is notoriously difficult. Causal relations between actions and results are difficult to establish, achievements tend to be largely invisible and hard to trace, and influencing often takes place behind closed doors. Those influenced by advocacy may not be ready or available to concede being influenced (or not) by specific actors, actions or events. Moreover, intervention effects are likely found among numerous causal strands. The objects of advocacy—policymakers, publics and private sector actors—are moving targets subject to numerous influences. Much of the difficulty of assessing advocacy has therefore been attributed to the complexity of the change processes where advocacy seeks to contribute (Chapman and Wameyo, 2001; Jones, 2011). Key elements of this complexity include the nonlinearity of change and the emergent nature of outcomes (Rogers, 2008; Arensman et al. 2017). In addition, evidence for achievements is often unavailable or inaccessible.
Currently available methods for monitoring and evaluation are not geared to the realities of advocacy work. Problems in current monitoring and evaluation methodology hamper an understanding of the true nature and meaning of advocacy achievements and challenges: (1) a focus on results that in themselves provide little insight about their meaning or the quality of efforts and (2) unrealistic assumptions about availability and usefulness of objective evidence.
Narrative Assessment addresses these two problems by shifting from a focus on measurement of results to the meaning-making. Central to Narrative Assessment is bringing out the dynamics of advocacy work, showing how advocates make sense, decide, act and learn when situations are in flux and the future is opaque. Narrative Assessment centers on co-created and examined stories from advocates who are in the middle of the action. This methodology takes the starting point that, when carefully developed and critically and systematically examined, advocates accounts of what happened are highly valuable in many ways. Capitalizing on the insider-information and communicative potential of stories, Narrative Assessment will support co-creation of advocacy knowledge, and will enable collective sense-making of how achievements and challenges are to be appreciated and understood. This, in turn, can guide, and mobilize for, future action and support.
Narrative Assessment integrates theory of change and storytelling, drawing on narrative analysis (Costatino and Greene 2003) and narrative inquiry (Loh 2013). Going beyond storytelling as in current story-cented approaches (like Most Significant Change), it (1) uses stories for deep reflection and learning, and (2) addresses the feasibility of objectivity and evidence in the complex context of advocacy and proposes an evaluation methodology rooted in alternative conceptualisations of rigour and of evaluator roles.
At the same time, Narrative Assessment should be seen as a meta-approach rather than another ‘tool’ that stands alone, to replace existing approaches, methods and practices. Current M&E methods like Most Significant Change, Outcome Mapping and Outcome Harvesting, well able to identify and document result, end with result findings. Narrative Assessment can be fruitfully integrated with such methods, building on the findings of results produced by these methods.