Hi, my name is Katie Fox, and I am principal associate at Innovation Network, a nonprofit research and evaluation organization based in DC. I came to the evaluation field three years ago after spending the previous decade as an organizer, advocate, and funder of various social justice issues. Over the past year, we have all witnessed the power and promise of grassroots-led change as popular movements and organized communities have galvanized widespread support for changing institutions and systems that perpetuate anti-Black violence and racism. These mechanisms for change have a long, important history in advancing systems and structural change grounded in anti-racism, equity, and justice.
However, the evaluation field is short on scholarship, guidance, and spaces for evaluators to learn about the unique histories, cultures, and practices of grassroots-led change, including social movements and community organizing. In that absence, the evaluation field has, perhaps unknowingly, upheld advocacy and policy change evaluation as the framework for these social change mechanisms. In my short evaluation career, I have heard evaluators refer to community organizing as an “advocacy strategy” and policy change as the ultimate end goal of movement building and organizing.
When evaluators subsume community organizing and social movements under the advocacy and policy change umbrella, we obscure and devalue their unique histories, practices, and contributions. Perhaps most troubling, by centering advocacy and policy change in social justice-oriented evaluation, we are indirectly complicit in the continued underinvestment in grassroots-led change by the philanthropic sector. Mitigating these effects and evaluating grassroots-led change responsibly requires a reorientation and expansion in our understanding of the practices, strategies, and outcomes of social change work.
Social movements and community organizing are fundamentally different mechanisms of social change from traditional advocacy – from the individuals and communities that lead them, to the underlying principles that motivate them, to the strategies they employ, to the end goals they seek. Traditionally, the advocacy sector is grounded in technocratic and meritocratic worldviews that center professionalized, “expert” advocates and policymakers as the agents of social change. In contrast, community organizing and social movements democratize social change, putting impacted communities in the driver’s seat. Community organizers and movements builders seek to not just work within existing power structures but to disrupt those structures and build the agency and capacity of communities most impacted by injustice and inequities to advance change.
How Organizations Develop Activists by Hahrie Han: A thorough primer about the practices of community organizing.
The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza: Part memoir, part handbook from one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter that offers reflections and lessons on the unique challenges and opportunities of organizing and movement building in our current moment.
This is an Uprising by Mark and Paul Engler: A clear and compelling guide to movement building, packed with examples from movements around the world.
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