Expanding the Bench™ Week: Shifting Funders’ Mindset on Evaluation by Jackie W. Kaye

Hi there! My name is Jackie W. Kaye. I am the Chief Learning and Evaluation Officer at Wellspring Philanthropic Fund. I spent the first half of my career as a social scientist doing research and program evaluation, and the second half of my career leading the evaluation function at three Foundations. Early in my career transition, I learned that funders can be particularly skilled at creating confusion, frustration, and yes, even anger about evaluation. As someone who has always insisted that “evaluation” remain in my title, I have focused on how we can shift grantees’ perception of evaluation as contrasted to devaluing evaluation.

Here are three points for evaluators to consider in shifting funder mindset, highlighting how  culturally responsive and equitable evaluation (CREE) is important:

  • Funders often start with a methodology or a matrix instead of starting with evaluation questions. When they do ask evaluation questions, they are not always the most relevant or useful. Evaluators who bring diverse perspectives and who understand the importance of diverse perspectives will help funders focus on the right questions.
  • Funders often ask grantees for four-year outcomes with one-year grants. The evaluation of this work is set-up for failure. Evaluators who have experience in the communities where the work happens and who understand the context for that work are better positioned to help funders understand what can and cannot be learned within a specific timeframe.
  • Funders sometimes engineer a partnership to create an evaluation team, and sometimes do not engage partners for an evaluation team to avoid engineering. Both strategies can weaken evaluation. Evaluators can truly strengthen practice by being proactive about seeking out partners who bring important additional perspectives. This also provides an opportunity for donor education. They hear, “this work will be stronger if I don’t do it alone; here’s why a team that brings broader experience and perspective matters and will produce a more useful analysis for you.”

This week, we’re diving into issues of Culturally Responsive and Equitable Evaluation (CREE) with contributions from members of the Expanding the Bench Initiative (ETB). ETB is an initiative based on the fundamental belief that increasing diversity in the field of evaluation improves our knowledge base and makes for better science and social innovation. 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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