Step 3: Setting your tax goals, objectives and indicators

Once you’ve identified your problems and solutions and analysed the targets, stakeholders and policy, and political context and opportunities, it’s time to build this into a wider advocacy strategy. The next step is usually to develop your goals and objectives and to set indicators for measuring your progress.

Developing a goal

The goal is the overall purpose of the project, the big picture, the vision of what you are ultimately trying to achieve (for example ‘To ensure that the government raises sufficient revenues through taxation in order to deliver essential services to all citizens, including the poorest and most vulnerable’). It is long term and gives direction, helping you and your network or coalition know where you are going, generally over several years – but you will need to devise the advocacy strategy, or road map, to show you how to get there. Your advocacy project will contribute to its fulfilment but will not necessarily achieve it in isolation. Your goal should also reflect the mission and vision of your organisation or network.

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Definition

‘Goal’:

The overall purpose of the advocacy initiative.

‘Objective’:

Specific things to be achieved in the short and medium term on the way to achieving the overall goal.

The goal refers to the benefit that will be felt by those affected by an issue, whereas objectives often refer to the desired changes in policy and practices that will contribute to the goal.

Examples of goals

Christian Aid Ghana’s tax goal:
‘Increased tax revenue for development and poverty reduction by ensuring an equitable, gender-sensitive, just and transparent tax system’

The goal of the Nicaragua coalition of CSOs led by Coordinadora Civil and IEEPP:
‘To ensure equitable redistribution of income and increased transparency in Nicaragua’

Filipino Freedom from Debt Coalition goal in the context of the Jubilee 2000 ‘Recall the Debt’ campaign:
‘To achieve a reorientation of the budget (eg bigger allotment for health and education), progressive taxation, and other related reforms aimed at genuine development’

Tax Justice Network Africa’s goal:
‘To promote socially just, democratic and progressive taxation systems in Africa’

Christian Aid’s tax campaign goal:
‘To challenge and change international tax systems and structures that keep people poor’

SOMO Economic Justice and Reform programme goal:
‘National and international tax systems are more supportive of development. CSOs all over the world have introduced tax justice research advocacy into their work’

Clarifying what you want to achieve with your advocacy – establishing ‘SMART’ objectives

An objective is the specific change you want to see and the change that will advance progress towards the ultimate goal. Good objectives can make all the difference to the success or failure of your advocacy efforts.

In Ghana, where the goal is ‘increased tax revenue for development and poverty reduction by ensuring an equitable, gender-sensitive, just and transparent tax system’, Christian Aid and its partners have identified four objectives towards meeting this goal:

  • ‘An improved tax regime that favours the growth of the informal sector’
  • ‘An improved tax incentive framework that obliges companies to adhere to tax payment’
  • ‘Increased effectiveness of mechanisms to monitor transfer pricing’
  • ‘Improved accountability and transparency in relation to oil revenues’.

Objectives can be long term or short term, and phased accordingly – the former can give you encouragement early on. Long-term objectives usually focus on changing the policy or practice of institutions, whereas shorter-term objectives can focus on attitude changes, raising awareness, getting an issue on the agenda, building a constituency of support or movement for change, and so on. It may be necessary to achieve some of the short-term objectives before you can achieve the longer-term ones.11
For example, if the goal of Nigerian CSOs working on tax justice is improved accountability and transparency on oil revenues, then their long-term objective could be that the Nigerian government researches, documents and shares information on oil revenue from taxes annually by 2013. This may require a greater constituency of support among the Nigerian population or specific interest groups in order to be achievable – so achieving that support becomes a short- to medium-term objective. It may even require legislation, a Mining Act for example, so that could also become a medium-term objective.

It can be a good idea to develop solution-based objectives. NGOs are often criticised for campaigning against a policy or practice without providing possible alternatives. Being the source of credible, realistic solutions will lend weight to your advocacy. It is also the case that people tend to respond better to campaigns that offer a way forward rather than a more negative ‘just say no’ approach. To use the above example about Nigerian oil revenues, proposing a Mining Act would be a solution-based objective.

An idea for developing good objectives is to make them SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound). SMART objectives are only one set of criteria you can use to measure the results of your work. Not every organisation will want to subject its work to this particular project management tool. However, setting some objectives and using criteria to measure them is generally a good idea – this way you can measure and monitor progress, celebrate your successes and justify your activities.You will need to ask yourselves what is achievable or realistic in your context – it’s a judgement call. And objectives may, of course, change over time depending on progress.

Being SMART

Specific: clearly defined, discrete, an aid to focusing advocacy work.

Measurable: quantifiable or verifiable and therefore ensures that your objective is capable of being evaluated.

Achievable: is it likely that change will come about, that is, is it worthwhile pursuing rather than a waste of energy? If an objective is unlikely to be achievable within a defined period, you may want to identify shorter-term objectives that can act as stepping stones to achieving more fundamental change in the longer term.

Realistic: assess feasibility – what is the likelihood of achieving change, bearing in mind the human and financial resources at your disposal and the external context?

Timebound: a specific time frame is useful so you can plan effectively, but again it’s not fixed in stone and may need to shift to reflect changes in the external context and progress made. If you haven’t achieved your objective by the planned date, you may still decide to carry on, but at least it prompts you to reflect on why that might be and whether a shift in approach is appropriate.

The table below shows some examples of SMART tax advocacy objectives. The left-hand column shows the SMART objective and the right-hand column explains how the achievement of this objective relates to the problem.

SMART objective

How would this address the problem?

National

Five newspaper articles to be published in the national press on the issue of tax avoidance, in which representatives of our CSO network are quoted, by the end of the year.

It would put the issue in the spotlight and lay the ground for increased public debate.

The Filipino government to provide for a single excise tax rate for cigarette products and to index the tax to inflation by XX year.

This would raise revenues and reduce smoking-related deaths and health costs.

The Rwandan government to remove VAT on sanitary pads by 2012.

It would be one step in the broader struggle to achieve greater gender equity in the tax system, by removing a tax on an essential item that is only borne by women.

Regional

European Union to support country-by-country reporting by MNCs by 2011 and actively promote its adoption by the IASB by 2012.

It would increase the pressure on the IASB to adopt a country-by-country reporting standard. If implemented, this would make it more difficult for MNCs to avoid tax through manipulating their declared profits.

The countries in the East African Community to agree on shared maximum levels of tax exemptions in tax-free zones by 2012.

This would limit the competition between the east African countries to offer lower and lower tax breaks to attract investors. In turn it would mean more government revenue for social expenditure.

Global

To secure the adoption of a country-by-country international financial reporting standard by the IASB by 2012.

This would make it more difficult for MNCs to avoid tax through manipulating their declared profits.

To secure the adoption of a multilateral agreement to develop and implement an automatic tax information exchange system by 2012.

It would make it more difficult for MNCs and rich individuals to hide their taxable income in secrecy jurisdictions.

Try creating some of your own (see Exercise 5 in the interaction pages).

For each objective, try to identify the targets – that is, the decision-making institutions or bodies that are able to effect the policy changes or implementation sought.

Useful reminder: using objectives to measure success

  • You should design progress indicators for each objective, asking ‘how will I know if I have fulfilled my objective?’
  • Measuring impact of an advocacy campaign may take many years.
  • It may be difficult to know when to give credit for successful change to specific advocacy activities if there are many other factors also contributing to your overall goal and objectives. But if your objectives and indicators are SMART, you will be fairly clear what your organisation’s contribution to the successful change has been.
  • The impact may not be a complete success but rather a ‘compromise’, so the advocacy objectives may need to be changed depending on how much impact there has been

Developing your indicators – planning now for ‘monitoring and evaluating’ later

Having established your goals and objectives, it’s important to develop signposts or indicators that will ‘indicate’ whether or not you are on the path to fulfilling your objectives.

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Definition

‘Indicator’:

Evidence that shows you are progressing towards your objectives

Monitoring and evaluation should be central to your advocacy strategy from the start; it should be something that takes place alongside research, planning and execution of your strategy; and it should influence the direction of your advocacy in the future. In order to measure whether you have made any progress or not, you will need to think in advance about what that ‘progress’ will look like. What evidence will prove or demonstrate that progress has been made and that the advocacy work undertaken had some kind of impact? The proof or evidence of success will be your indicators.

Examples of indicators

Long-term objective

Short- to medium-term objectives

Progress indicators

An international accounting standard for country-by-country reporting by 2012

Formal support from your government for a new international accounting standard on country-by-country reporting

  • Public statements in support of country-by-country reporting
  • Mention of country-by-country reporting in government’s draft policy paper

Formal endorsement by the G20 of country-by-country reporting

  • A commitment in G20 communiqué
  • A follow-up mechanism for ensuring delivery
    of commitment

A commitment from the IASB to adopt a new international accounting standard on country-by-country reporting

Draft of country-by-country reporting standard published

Support indicated by the Big Four accountancy companies for country-by-country reporting

  • Public statements
  • Private statements

Nigerian government to research, document and share information on oil revenue from taxes annually by 2013

The government makes a formal commitment to document and share information on oil revenues

  • Debates held in Parliament calling for greater transparency
  • Finance minister publicly states intention to consolidate and share data on oil tax revenues

Citizens in Kailahun (Sierra Leone) and various districts throughout Ghana to exercise increased influence over local government policy, particularly around taxation, through the use of innovative media and communication technologies, by 2014

  • Citizens are mobilising around issues of public services and taxation
  • Citizens are engaged in regular and successful interaction with their local authorities
  • CSOs are using existing and new communications platforms to get people’s voices heard

What are indicators? (sometimes referred to as ‘signs’, ‘signposts’ or ‘milestones’)

An indicator is something that shows (or indicates) progress towards your objectives. It can be a policy statement from a senior politician, a declaration from a meeting, a new or revised law or policy paper, and so on.

Good indicators meet the following criteria:

  • Measurable: able to be recorded and analysed in quantitative or in discrete qualitative terms
  • Precise: presented or described in such a way that their meaning will be the same to all people
  • Consistent: not changing over time, so that the same phenomenon can be measured over time; for example a currency that inflates or deflates in value is not a consistent measure of wealth.

Good indicators should measure the impact and outcomes of your activities, whether they have contributed to achieving your advocacy objectives, not just the inputs such as the number of activities, leaflets, letters written, and so on. If you are outcome focused, you are much more likely to avoid the trap of only looking at whether you did the things you said you’d do, rather than whether they had the desired impact.

To illustrate:

  • Number of letters written to parliamentarians: this indicator will simply demonstrate that you wrote some letters. It says nothing about the impact of the letters.
  • Number of responses received from parliamentarians: this will demonstrate whether or not the letters you wrote to parliamentarians actually had an impact on them.

NB: If you do not set indicators right from the start – when you first develop your advocacy strategy – you may not collect the evidence you need to demonstrate progress when you come to monitor and evaluate your advocacy strategy.

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