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Bloggers Series: Steve Mayer on JustPhilanthropy

I’m Steve Mayer, a founder of AEA and a predecessor organization, the Evaluation Research Society. My training includes a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology (University of Minnesota), but when Donald Campbell’s classic article, “Reforms as Experiments” came out, I left academia and hung out my shingle. I was the founder and first executive director, for 23 years, of Rainbow Research, Inc. before leaving to be Evaluation Consultant to the Effective Communities Project.

Rad Resource: My blog, JustPhilanthropy.org

This blog site emerged from a five-year study sponsored by the Ford Foundation “to develop benchmarks for assessing progress in moving philanthropy closer to issues of racial equity and social justice.” The study created such huge awareness (in me) of the confluence of philanthropy, justice, and evaluation that I had to keep exploring it, not just in the current scene but in my work of the past.

Hot Tips – Favorite Posts:

Making a Difference (#2). Being clear about the kind of difference you intend with your gift determines where to look for evidence. Duh, right?

The Mittenthal Principle. Designing a grant to achieve better outcomes.

Can Philanthropy Create Greater Racial Equity and Social Justice? Yes. Here’s how. The results of a five-year inquiry.

Lessons Learned – Why I blog:

Just as the sculptor says when contemplating an unformed block of granite (“there’s a sculpture in their somewhere”) so it is with your own body of knowledge.

Even if you don’t blog, it’s a good exercise to parse your research papers, final reports, or presentations into bloggable chunks.

Just as putting your thoughts into PowerPoint imposes remarkable discipline in shaping your thoughts, so does writing 450-word blog posts. Try it!

Lessons Learned:

Reforms to society as introduced by philanthropy (a 30-year arena of professional engagement) are worthy of evaluation. Every grant or gift considered, whether institutional or personal, carries the potential of reform.

There are elements of Justice and Injustice everywhere – in society, in reform efforts, and in the evaluation of reform efforts. The choice of outcomes to be assessed is a political act. “Noticing progress” probably takes us further than “measuring impact,” always being mindful of who benefits.

Evaluation of potential reforms requires multiple lenses, an appreciation of “value” as set in multiply-layered context, and a nose for the story. Whether to study reforms experimentally and/or in other ways makes for a lively discussion.

This winter, we’re running a series highlighting evaluators who blog. 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.

1 thought on “Bloggers Series: Steve Mayer on JustPhilanthropy”

  1. Interesting post! Particularly your take on the evaluation of reform requiring multiple lenses and the appreciation of value in a multiply layered context. Looking deeper into the reform process seems to be related in some ways to the AEA’s Public Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation, particularly the dynamics of power. Thanks for the insights!

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