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Not all knowledge is evidence, not all good advocacy is evidence based. Disagree.

The title of the clipped article below triggered my response more so than the content. "Not all good advocacy is evidence based".  I have a slightly different perspective on that phrase.

All good advocacy is evidence based. The practice of advocacy itself is built on a historical record that shows advocacy is the necessary requirement for policy change.  Some believe advocacy is more of a dark art than an evidence based approach to creating policy change. Evidence suggests advocacy is required to create any policy change.

This is not really what the riff is about but the discussion of evidence based advocacy is a jumping off point to acknowledge that evidence shows us advocacy is required and necessary. Evidence teaches us how to refine advocacy efforts. Evidence shows us what advocacy works.  If we are committed to creating change based on evidence, then we must commit to effective evidence based advocacy to achieve the desired results.

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 John Snow presented a map to London Epidemiological Society to advocate for the closing of the Broad Street well.  His contribution was more than research and mapping. Not just a great doctor and scientist. He persuaded others to understand and prioritize his evidence. He persuaded policy makers to act.   John Snow made his mark as an advocate.  Would he have been quite as remarkable if he didn't also secure the change, close the pump and stop the cholera outbreak?  He actually developed a water borne theory on early outbreaks but the Broad Street event stands out because of the advocacy.   

Our goal as professionals is to demonstrate that such a perception of advocacy is disconnected from the world of evidence and science is wrong.   As dedicated and disaplined campaign practioners, our work is more in line with E.O. Wilsons vision of great science, "work like a book keeper, think like a poet". Expereince, evidence and knowledge tell us that policy only changes through inspiring action (not just presenting facts).  

otherwise, I like the riff...

Evidence is not the same thing as Knowledge – Evidence is usually taken to mean “hard” demonstrable, measurable things. Evidence comes from direct observations, surveys, experiments and evaluations and the like. Evidence is crucial to advancing scientific learning as well as on an everyday level to know how things are going such as through programme monitoring. Knowledge (i.e what we know) is internalized learning – in this sense we only know something demonstrated by evidence if we have internalized it- i.e. we “believe it”. Similarly there are things we know (and act on) for which we don’t have strong evidence – often this knowledge comes from learning and direct experience – even if this is not documented and measured. Much important learning is not documented as evidence – that’s why we often ask for someone else’s advice – someone who “knows”, someone who has done it before.

Not all good advocacy is “evidence-based” – Evidence-based advocacy has been interpreted by some to mean advocacy that uses data, charts, includes report citations etc. to show the strength of the evidence on which a particular argument is based. However it’s probably fair to say we all know people who are unimpressed by numbers and so even if the argument is made more concrete by using them for some audiences this will be a poor method of persuasion for others. A weaker definition of evidence based advocacy would be that the argument we are using to persuade is informed by and supported by available evidence, and is not contradicted by it – but that the evidence itself is only used if that is helpful in making the case with the particular audience. I sometimes jokingly refer to this as “evidence-supported” advocacy. It’s also worth mentioning that part of effective advocacy is understanding and taking into account the interests, needs and prejudices of the person you are trying to persuade – issues such as the political situation in country, a person’s background etc. in this case you might well stress certain evidence that appeal to the audience and downplay or even omit others. Possibly your whole appeal might be at an emotional level or about values and ideals rather than evidence at all (e.g. all children ought to have a right to free education – beecause it’s the “right” thing to do). This isn’t evidence-based advocacy – but it might be good advocacy. What I think we should not do is advocate for things which are contradicted by available evidence – or where we don’t have some grounding either in evidence or in principle (e.g. in Human Rights principles).

Evidence does not equal truth – An obvious point, but evidence is based on fixed observations that are often partial, and new evidence emerges all the time often contradicting or muddying the conclusions we arrived at from past evidence. Just because we have evidence for a particular model or theory doesn’t make it true. We also need to be aware of personal biases in interpreting evidence – in particular people tend to interpret evidence in a way that is supportive to their existing way of thinking.


 I would add that evidence doesn't equal prioirity.  Assembling evidence on a problem or solution doesn't mean that change will happen. Experience demonstrates that effective change needs to be based on best solutions and best science but experience doesn't demonstrate that development of best solutions and solid science means change will be implemented.  This disconnect is often created because of a clash of priorities. Science, evidence and experience allows us to know guns are the key contributing factor to needless deaths but the advocacy struggle is over priorities to act on that knowledge vs. taking on economy, immigration, debt, etc.  Advocacy helps build intensity, focus attention and elevate priority. Good advocacy is based on a field of evidence about advocacy and campaign work.

P.S. I strongly recommend Ghost Map by Steven Johnson on Snow's work.