Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why Nonprofit advocacy needs an R & D Approach

Building effective advocacy techniques in the nonprofit sector is an important undertaking. Much of what we think we know is based on practice wisdom. Practice wisdom, like most forms of experience, has limitations and can have a very short shelf life. That certainly doesn't mean it isn't valuable--it means that it isn't enough. We need some generalizable strategies that can meet the needs of the sector in the immediate future. This means the following:

1) Techniques and strategies that build on existing knowledge that has been validated and tested;

2) Techniques and strategies that have been rigorously examined using solid research approaches;

3) Techniques and strategies that can be easily implemented in many settings.

Doing any one of these important tasks is a challenge. Taken together, they form a major investment. Fortunately, the technology and management options developed for industrial research and development provides a way to meet these major tasks.

A properly conducted project would develop a prototype, based on a careful consideration of the existing research. This prototype would then be field tested and evaluated. Changes to the basic design would be made and an additional field trial would be conducted. This process will continue until a satisfactory system is created. It would them be carefully packaged and marketed. A nice overview of this process is presented in an older book by Rothman (1980) that could easily be applied today.

This would require a commitment of time, money and political will. It could yield world changing results. We are already spending a significant sum of money on nonprofit advocacy. Wouldn't it be great if we could make it more effective?


Rothman, J. (1980). Social R & D: Research and development in the human services. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.