So What?

How to Give Power to the People

January 20, 2017  • Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program

The biweekly “So What” guide highlights advice, events, and tips – mostly from the advocacy and evaluation worlds, lovingly selected (and lightly snarked) by the Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program. We’re a consulting practice at the Aspen Institute that partners with foundations, nonprofit organizations, and individual funders to help them strengthen their efforts to bring about positive change in society.

Power to the people … sometimes

As we write, hundreds of thousands of people are preparing to take to the streets to protest for and against the incoming President and Administration — most prominently the Women’s March. But how effectively do street protests promote social change? Skeptics, like Moises Naim, point to the declining utility of marches, and claim it is easy to get people to show up, but harder to establish coherent goals and sustain commitment.

If you’re in it at all, be in it for the long haul.

But Erica Chenoweth, a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, lays out 10 tidbits of research that vouch for the efficacy of nonviolent protest — including marches — and explain how to sustain change: If you’re in it at all, be in it for the long haul.

Evaluating internal evaluation

Last week Michele Lempa, Josh Joseph, and Chris Stalker shared questions and answers about internal evaluations at the Pew Charitable Trusts and Oxfam America. The engaging discussion, part therapeutic and part pragmatic, highlighted the importance of where the evaluation function “sits” within the organization and who constitutes its audience. Big thanks to our presenters and audience for sharing their experiences. We welcome suggested topics and speakers for 2017 gatherings. You know the deal: You bring the knowledge; we bring the food.

The effects of celebrity

What do Donald Trump and Angelina Jolie have in common? Not much, except that both have “effects” on other people’s actions. The “Trump effect” refers (though unscientifically) to the rise in hateful actions apparently inspired by his campaign rhetoric. Causation may not be clear, but organizations have tracked an unfortunate rise in instances of hate speech, and a new effort, Documenting Hate, hopes to be more comprehensive. The “Jolie effect” links the actress’s breast cancer awareness advocacy to individual health care decisions; but its well-intentioned impact is, at best, mixed.

The Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program helps leading foundations and nonprofit organizations plan, assess and learn from their efforts to promote changes in knowledge, attitudes, behaviors and policies in the US and internationally. To learn more about our tools and services, visit

So What?
How to Advocate with Impact
January 6, 2017 • Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program