Advocacy Research —Know Your Options

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)


Advocacy Research Options

Advocacy research is an important step in building a public affairs campaign of any size.  Advocacy campaigns come in all shapes and sizes from multi million dollar public facing campaigns to small grassroots community advocacy campaigns and many sizes in between. The advocacy research you need to build a good campaign strategy also comes in many forms and budget options. You can and should know your options for advocacy research. In this post we explore the panoply of advocacy research options out there including: polling, focus groups, and experimental testing.

A big part of the answer to “What kind of advocacy research is right for me?” is based on the overall goal and strategy of your campaign. This will inform the type of research needed. In addition to strategy, your budget will determine which advocacy research options will be the most cost effective. If you are running a smaller-budget advocacy campaign, your options for research are limited. A smaller budget for an advocacy campaign means under a $50,000 budget (we understand there are effective advocacy campaigns that do operate with less, and kudos!). Larger campaigns have a wider selection, and can use a combination of different types of advocacy campaign research to achieve their goals.

Here are some advocacy research tactics that can be used at lots of different budget levels:

1. In-person focus groups: In-person focus groups are a good way to gauge understanding of and level of personal connection to your issue. An in-person focus group generally has 5-10 participants per group, with organizations doing 4-6 groups with different demographics and locations. We recommend organizations test issues as well as creative concepts so the can have a good understanding of how people will react to a advocacy campaign dialogue.    The cost of focus groups depends on the firm you are using, the issue topic, and the participants you are recruiting. A focus group tends to be very in-depth research, as it’s real people reacting to your communications in real time. As such, it is also typically the most costly type of advocacy campaign research.

2. Online focus groups: The price for online focus groups is similar to that of in-person groups, but the flexibility of online groups allows you to get more detail because they aren’t limited by time. They also help to avoid the “group think” you can sometimes get in traditional in-person groups. There are a number of ways to set up online groups, and they can even be set up so folks can interact with each other.

3. Digital panels: These are like online focus groups, except more in-depth. These panels are held over a series of days and you can ask multiple rounds of follow-up questions to get the information you need. It can be useful for interaction, but the cost is not always as friendly as you might like.

4. Triads: Triads are smaller focus group interviews of (you guessed it) three people. They are a cheaper way doing in-person focus groups, but they don’t always allow for as rich a diversity of opinions. Be warned: if you do too many of them it could cost as much as doing traditional in-person focus groups.

5. Benchmark poll:This is the poll that political campaigns typically start with, though many advocacy campaigns could use them as well This poll is longer, and more in depth. Often pollsters will read participants’ longer questions or campaign messages, and ask them which is more persuasive or more likely to spur them into action. The price for this kind of poll is mostly determined by length, and can get expensive quickly.

6. Tracking poll . is a short and simple survey that provides a quick and dirty look at where the participants stand on any given candidate or issue. This is done with live calls.

7. IVR polling: This is the “press one, press two” automated poll that you have encountered over the phone. It is a beefed-up robo-call, essentially. It’s a very low budget option, and you can get some basic information on your issue. There are limitations on length, and your results may have an inherent bias depending on length (what kind of person makes it all the way through one of these?) but we have seen good results on these to get a quick if limited picture of what is going on with a issue.

8.  A/B testing: A/B testing can be a quick and cost-effective way to test different messages and creative about your issue. You give one message to one small subset of your targeted group, and another message to another small subset of your targets. Whichever message spurs the most direct action is the winner. If you have competing ideas with multiple prices of creative, but need to decide which works better, an A/B testing program might be what you need this can be done easily with digital advertising and as part of a experiment informed program.

9. Experiment informed program. We have written about experiment informed programs before and are big fans. This can be done for advocacy research.  An EIP tests your campaign with a subset of your overall universe and allows you to look at those results and then roll out a refined campaign to your larger universe.   It is really a budget and strategic question of whether it will work for you.

10. ID calls: I’ve heard of some issue advocacy campaigns using traditional political ID calls instead of a benchmark or opinion poll. Frankly I think this is a poor advocacy research tactic. This is just your basic “are you for this issue?” call. If your goal is to understand what moves people, ID calls won’t give you any information on why someone does or does not support an issue, nor what might help to change their mind. Id calls are usually not doe with valid sampling or calling protocols so you results may not  be useful as a real picture of what is going on in your community.

Have more questions on advocacy research? Ask them here.