Breaking Free: Transforming the Practice of Evaluation: Moving from an Evaluator Pipeline to an Evaluation Ecosystem by Kelly Hannum and Jara Dean-Coffey

Hello. We are Kelly Hannum and Jara Dean-Coffey. We’re independent consultants who have each worked in evaluation (as well as strategy and organizational development) for 20+ years. Lately, our work has focused on philanthropy in the United States. If you know us, you know we care deeply about the Equitable Evaluation Framework™ . It is going to take a lot of work to evolve who we are and what we do – including rethinking the evaluation pipeline metaphor.

The term “pipeline” is used to describe getting people into a field or role – but it suggests a straight, single path (often not the case in evaluation which depends on diverse perspectives, experiences, and disciplines) and neglects important elements like retention, permeability or interdependence and support as well as relationships to other parts of the ecosystems in which evaluation is situated.

This summary report provides information about recent evaluation pipeline efforts. It’s critical to note that recruiting diverse evaluators into contexts that have a strong white dominant culture isn’t enough to advance equity and evolve evaluation. The majority of evaluators aren’t white by accident; Dr. Vidhya Shanker’s AEA365 post from last year shares a bit about why. It is not simply a matter of changing who is involved in the work, but the intent and the work itself as well as what we frame as valuable and credible experience and expertise.


Think critically and strategically about the role evaluation plays in the work of the foundation (or any organization).  Let go of notions about what it “should be.” Work towards having a vision to see more relevant and vibrant roles for evaluation as well as the courage to ask questions that challenge the status quo about the work and who is doing the work.

Experiment with and adopt practices that enhance, reinforce, and reflect more inclusive and complex definitions of validity, rigor and objectivity and as well as focus on relevance and usefulness of information for and from different perspectives.

Create broader support for evaluation role(s) within the organization as well as greater diffusion of evaluative thinking throughout organizations. Including evaluative thinking content in leadership development programs for philanthropy is another approach for creating a vibrant evaluation ecosystem and would likely yield benefits beyond just evaluation (e.g. better strategy development and implementation).


Efforts such as Expanding the Bench seek to reframe and better contextualize pipeline efforts. Shifting from ‘evaluator pipeline’ framing and language towards thinking about and moving towards an ‘evaluation ecosystem.’

Current power dynamics create and reinforce inequities and inaccuracies into how we conceive and conduct evaluation and what knowledge is generated. This Chicago Beyond report report delves deeper into why that is and how to do things differently.

The Shifting the Evaluation Paradigm report invites those who purchase, manage and conduct evaluation to consider what practice of the Equitable Evaluation Framework™ necessitates and how we  must be, think and do evaluative work differently though the experiences of six foundation practice partners engaged in shifting their mindsets and efforts.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Breaking Free: Transforming the Practice of Evaluation Week. 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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