Breaking Free: Transforming the Practice of Evaluation: Sometimes the Best Advice is to Just Get Started by Nate Madden, Jessica Mindnich, and Brett Hembree

Hello fellow evaluators and practice partners. I am Nate Madden and I’m writing this post with my colleagues Dr. Jessica Mindnich and Brett Hembree. Jessica serves as our Senior Director of Evaluation, Learning, and Impact Stories at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (EMKF), with Brett and I as analysts. Together we support data infrastructure and strategic learning.

Over the past year, our organization has undergone a significant shift in our approach and thinking about evaluation. This is particularly true when it comes to the evaluators we hire, skills we look for, and our own journey on race equity. Throughout this week, you’ll hear more from our friends across the field about supporting evaluators of color and ways to incorporate more relevant, inclusive, and meaningful perspectives and practices, not just those that favor a white-dominant perspective. Here are highlights of our journey so far.

Hot Tips

It doesn’t matter if you start small… just start. Kauffman’s journey began through our membership of the Funder and Evaluator Affinity Network (FEAN). Through this membership we have learned from our colleagues and identified clear and tangible steps to make our own work more equitable and culturally responsive.  A relatively easy first step was registering with the Advancing Culturally-responsive and Equitable (ACE) Evaluation Network Database. This helped us expand our awareness of evaluators of color and organizations practicing culturally responsive and equitable evaluation (CREE).

Keep the momentum and look for new ways to grow. Taking a small step with our FEAN colleagues and using the ACE Network Database challenged us to do more. This included sponsoring Expanding the Bench Coffee-breaks to support relationship building between funders and CREE evaluators. We have also begun collecting demographic data from our grantees while also sharing our own. Finally, we became an Investment Partner r for the Equitable Evaluation Initiative and recently committed to being an EFF Practice Partner. While we’re still at the early stages, we continue to look for opportunities to challenge our thinking, practices, and policies. And when this work is done in partnership, it is sustaining, engaging, and more impactful.

Accept that this is forever work. We’re happy about what we’ve done so far, but we recognize that this is complex work without a clear destination. And the thing that everyone – and especially funders – need to realize is that this is head and heart work that has no end. Rather, it is a commitment to learning, reflection, and relationship. It requires us to build and earn trust, demonstrate vulnerability, and accept imperfection in ourselves and others. We recognize that the resources and practice changes from FEAN’s Call to Action series, are the start of broader and longer-term work, but it doesn’t matter if you start small…just start.

Rad Resources

These changes are not without challenges. For one, this requires broader race equity, diversity, and inclusion work, which we’re doing as individuals and as an organization at Kauffman. It is complex and requires much emotionally and mentally, but it is utterly essential. Also, many of these changes can’t be made unilaterally. We need to consistently engage with our colleagues to build shared understanding to make changes to processes and partnerships. This takes time and a deliberateness in action.

Please enjoy and engage with the posts coming this week. Each piece is designed to help shape understanding, provide tips and resources, and to ultimately help transform our field of work into a vehicle for justice, dignity, and aspiration.


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@eval.org . 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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