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Adaptive Capacity Assessment in Times of Corona by Jennifer Cohen & Batya Kallus

We are Jennifer (Jenny) Cohen (Evaluation Capacity-Building) and Batya Kallus (Israel Director) at the Social Venture Fund for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society

Lessons Learned: Learning and evaluation at non-profit organizations, as many of us know, often take a backseat during times of crisis. Many evaluators and foundation professionals committed to organizational learning of us have experienced “our” meetings, at least initially, being the first cancelled from mid-March of this year. With that, when said crisis is expected to result in long-term economic shifts and the possible significant contraction of philanthropic dollars, service and social change organizations alongside donors themselves are being called on to recalibrate. The most strategic of stakeholders recognize that evaluators and evaluative thinking can play a key role in providing the data and frames needed for rigorous and responsible short- and longer-term decision-making.  

During these uncertain and challenging days, with conflicting data awaiting us at every turn, even the most strategic of thinkers/practitioners may find themselves unmoored. Practical methods such as those described below, for remembering and utilizing agreed-upon values and standards may be precisely the type of anchor that evaluators and evaluative thinking can contribute to the field. 

Hot Tips (or Cool Tricks):

Immediately following the outbreak of the new Covid-19 Virus, the Social Venture Fund designed a model, described here, for assessing the adaptive capacity of its grantees and applicants, with two main functions in mind: to in form immediate grant-making decisions; and to help support on-going grantee capacity-building efforts. Building on frames initially developed and applied at Shatil and Sikkuy (see Strichman, Bickel and Marshood, 2007), particular indicators of adaptive capacity, related to financial, human, social, in-kind, program, and learning organization capital have begun to be piloted for analysis in the field by individual grantees and on the aggregate level by fund staff and board members.

Included in the model are some examples of questions that grantees have been asked to answer either in writing or short telephone interviews, which allow them to self-assess at different points in time throughout the crisis, including most recently as they shift from “emergency-mode” into the “new normal”. For example: Have you identified any capacity/skill gaps that if addressed would enable you to navigate the on-going crisis more effectively? Please describe.

To complement the organizational/project view, the tool also offers field level questions and a dashboard with numerical or color-coded scoring options, which fund staff and board members are using to analyze the collected aggregate data. Some example questions for funders include: When looking at the following through a “field lens”, where are the biggest/most complex gaps? Where are the strengths? Should we be strengthening the strong (are they strong-enough or are they just stronger) organizations? What will be lost if the weaker-scoring initiatives disappear from the map?

Rad Resources: An enormous thanks to these inspiring (and quick) thinkers and doers, for helping to ground modest but useful tools like the one described above. Michael Quinn Patton, Blue Marble Evaluation; Preskill and Cook, FSG; Bridgespan.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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