Tools to Improve Policymaking by Assessing and Strengthening NGO’s - Alliance for Justice

Tools to Improve Policymaking by Assessing and Strengthening NGO’s


Just like athletes who want to win important games, organizations that want to be successful in influencing policy are more likely to do so when they are strong and well prepared.

The first step toward knowing what it takes to be effective in advocacy is to assess how ready an NGO is to engage in an advocacy campaign, like one to obtain more lenient laws regarding state services to immigrants and refugees. Next a group has to take a snapshot of its own advocacy abilities and target where it has to grow its capacity in order to accomplish policy goals. And when evaluating the impact a group has already had on policy, it’s valuable to measure how it grew its capacity for future work during the campaign.

Assessing advocacy capacity is important for NGO’s because accomplishing policy goals can take years. And groups have to be ready to act quickly when opportunities arise like the election of a new legislator who is very sympathetic to immigrants’ needs or growing concern in the public about the health and well-being of Syrian refugees. For these reasons, Alliance for Justice’s Bolder Advocacy program has developed a free tool to help identify and track organizational advocacy skills, knowledge, and practices (together they make up advocacy capacity), how a group needs to strengthen its work, and how it has grown its capacity. Used by thousands of NGO’s, funders, and evaluators the Advocacy Capacity Tool (ACT) and its companion, the International Advocacy Capacity Tool (IACT) play a part in an upcoming On Think Tanks series.

“The tool has been used to inform the content of the forthcoming On Think Tanks Short Course on Advocacy, which will run from October to November 2017,” according to Till Bruckner who will present the webinars.

These tools which usually take under an hour to complete can help think tanks gather information and think about how to categorize research on advocacy work.

In anticipation of the forthcoming Short Course on Advocacy series, below is a summary of what constitutes advocacy capacity in ACT and IACT. Please note that any one group is not expected to be able to do it all. Many of these capacities can be obtained by working with partner groups.

Over 90 questions are provided for groups to rate themselves. Here’s a summation of the types of information requested broken down into four sections:

1.  Preparatory Work for Advocacy

  • Preparation – has the group scanned the political environment for taking on certain issue(s) and who might be potential allies and opponents on the issues?
  • Agenda – is there a plan, informed by the people most affected by the issues, for which issues or campaigns to tackle in the next year?
  • Strategies and Detailed Planning – is there a roadmap for obtaining advocacy goals including what are the concerns of those who need to be influenced in order to make progress?

2.  Conducting Advocacy

  • Research and Analysis
  • Field Operation
  • Advocacy Partners and Coalitions
  • Messaging
  • Media Relations
  • Influencing Decision-Makers

3.  Working with Target Audiences for Influencing Policy

  • Administrative (also known as Executive) Branch
  • Legislative Branch
  • Voters on Ballot Measures or Referenda
  • Voters and Candidates in the Electoral Process
  • Courts involved in the Litigation Process

4.  Sustaining the Organization and its Advocacy Work

  • Level of Commitment to Engaging in Advocacy by Board, Staff, and Members
  • Funding and Advocacy
  • Decision-Making Structure and Process Conducive to Advocacy
  • Fiscal Management and Sustainability

Might 45 minutes be too long for some groups to take to review their advocacy strengths? For those who want a quick survey of advocacy capacity, Bolder Advocacy developed a new, 10-minute tool, entitled ACT!Quick.

“ACT!Quick started a conversation that allowed us to realize where we can improve to become more effective.” Ray Green, Site Coordinator, Roberts Family Development Center

For more information on these tools and how to assess advocacy capacity, contact us at or 202-882-6070.