The thorny issue of campaign reporting

One thing that I have been thinking a lot about recently is how you go about reporting on your campaign progress. How should you go about this when you are asked for your targets or for your key performance indicators?

If you are running a project to build say a well, then it should be relatively easy to report on your progress: you might think about milestones for your preparation, building and implementation.

But if you’re running a campaign with so many uncertainties all around you, it can be very hard to identify key targets for your campaign reporting. Very often you might be tempted to focus on say the number of new supporters or number of conversations with Members of Parliament, but the danger with these proxy measures is that you can sometimes be forced down routes that may not be of direct help to move your campaign forward or may get you to focus on things that really aren’t important for the campaign.

In my ideal world campaigners wouldn’t be asked to pluck numbers and targets from the air. Instead we would be asked initially for a theory of change – the story of how we see our campaign story unfolding. And then at regular intervals we would update the theory of change with our activities, what we have learnt and the subsequent changes to our theory of change.

This approach may not satisfy the need for numbers and targets to fill boxes in reports, but what it does do is to recognise that the campaign is operating in an ever-changing dynamic environment. Your plans and aspirations one week may need to change the next week, and your area of focus may need to change. Yet your theory of change is still showing that you’re not doing random activities, that there is a strategic focus to your work and that you are responding to the outside world.

So over time anyone receiving reports on your campaign would get a real sense of the campaign journey, from initial aspiration to the progress and the changes that your campaign is making.

For me such reporting would focus on where we’ve come from, where we are now, and then where we are going. If I was trying to monitor campaigns, I would find that narrative approach much more useful than just a focus on a series of quite possibly random proxy measures.

I wonder whether in the wider charitable sector we are ready for such a progressive, story based approach for reporting on campaigning?

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