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Building an evidence base for your campaign

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Strong and compelling evidence should be the bedrock of your campaign. Before thinking about commissioning in-depth research, look around to see what evidence is already out there that you could to tap into from sources such as the Office of National Statistics (ONS), government departments, think tanks and academic research.

Your issue will not exist in a vacuum and you will also need to think about the competing ideas and vested interests that you are trying to support or make the case against. Take time to research if there are other groups that can also be influenced to take up your view of the issue.

With strong links to communities and their beneficiaries, voluntary and community organisations can often produce evidence and develop solutions based on their own experience. Government departments may bring voluntary and community organisations into debates about policy and consultations on law and good practice.

Once you have the evidence to support your campaign, you should have a set of claims or key messages about the issue, information to support your issue and proposals for solving the problem.

Tools and techniques

A range of resources and methods exist that you can use to help build your evidence base, for example:

Tapping into government research and knowledge

This could include:

  • statistics
  • policy knowledge
  • scientific knowledge
  • opinion poll data and qualitative data
  • practitioner views and insights such as how teachers view exams
  • using the parliamentary process such as asking parliamentary questions (PQs) via MPs who support your campaign
  • economic information and information on other countries’ actions.

Freedom of Information requests (FOI)

Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) is a common and often very effective campaigning tool to help build up the evidence for a campaign or gain crucial information on how decisions were arrived at.

Freedom of Information (FOI) is legislation that gives access to any non-personal recorded information held by or on behalf of central government, local authorities and other public bodies. This is the case unless a specific exemption allows the authority to refuse to give this information.

These tools can help build up the evidence base needed for a campaign, or gain crucial information about how a decision was arrived at. Sometimes information acquired through FOI requests can also produce an interesting angle for a media story.

To read more about using FOIA and EIRs in campaigning, take a look at NCVO’s Good Guide to Campaigning and Influencing. You can also download NCVO's guide to using FOI (pdf, 1.61MB) which includes examples of campaigns that have used FOI requests as part of their campaigning.

Request Initiative is an organisation that exists to help people use FOIA as an effective campaigning technique. They have also produced a comprehensive guide to using FOIA called FOIA Without The Lawyer which is available online.

Other sources of information

Professional bodies, such as the British Medical Association, or umbrella organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), or individual trade organisations and trade unions will also conduct research. Networks and research associations linked to universities, for instance the Third Sector Research Centre and the Voluntary Sector Studies Network can also be extremely useful. Some of this information will be easy to access but much may also be in specialist journals and research publications, which may take time to source or need to be paid for.

Conducting research

All research should be based on a clear need and should seek to create new knowledge, giving you further insight into your issue. You can do research ‘in house’ if you have the expertise and capacity. Otherwise you may need to commission it. Either way, research can eat up budgets so be clear about what you are expecting to discover.

Commissioning external researchers can both bring independence and provide greater credibility with your target audience(s). It can sometimes enhance the credibility of your research with your target audience — by using a research organisation that the target uses or by using an organisation, such as a think tank, that has a significant profile and important connections to your target.

Further information on how to develop a research proposal, research methods and research ethics can be found in NCVO’s Good Guide to Campaigning and Influencing by Brian Lamb.

Page last edited Apr 27, 2017

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