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NPF TIG Week: Building Equity into Internal Evaluation Infrastructure by Courtney Bolinson

This AEA365 week is sponsored by the Nonprofit and Foundations (NPF) TIG. The posts are centered around the theme of “Equity focused evaluation in small nonprofits and foundations: Innovations, learnings, and challenges.”

Hi! I’m Courtney Bolinson, an independent evaluation consultant. I’m currently helping a new organization set-up their internal evaluation infrastructure and philosophy. To get the lay of the land, I conducted a review of data from 21 pieces of academic and grey literature, interviews with five key leaders in the field, and written correspondence with current directors and leaders of evaluation units at four national and international foundations. There were some key themes that emerged around equity that I’d like to share.

Lessons Learned

We need diverse evaluation leaders and an environment that supports them.

The 2020 CEI Benchmarking Report calls out that “diversification of the evaluation role is critical for philanthropy’s ability to evaluate and learn effectively and in ways that advance equity, including staffing people of color in positions of power.” Not only do we need diverse people in positions of power, but we need to build supportive environments where diverse evaluation leaders can be heard and listened to. Many of my interviewees talked about the persistent challenge that even when evaluators of color are in leadership positions, they aren’t heard as loudly, or given the same deference as, for example, a white man with a PhD. We need to work to build environments, structures, and relationships that make room for diverse voices and perspectives.

Foundations and non-profits should partner with external evaluators of color.

In addition to hiring evaluators of color into internal leadership positions, partnerships with external evaluators and evaluation firms are another way to bring diverse perspectives and thought partnership to an organization. These external partners still must be brought into an environment that supports them.

We must advocate for and utilize equitable evaluation.

Equitable evaluation approaches and methods, such as transformative evaluation, Indigenous evaluation, culturally-responsive evaluation, and others, remain less familiar to non-evaluators at foundations and non-profits, and must be advocated for. This means supporting decision-makers to understand their choices with evaluation, including what they will gain from prioritizing equitable evaluation methods and what they will lose if this is not a priority. As one interviewee aptly put it, “Those sitting in [evaluation leadership] roles have to be prepared to defend equitable, ethical and multicultural approaches.”

Incorporate a clear point of view on equity into your evaluation handbook, principles, and/or mandate.

Be explicit about how equity will be part of strategic planning, theory of change development, evaluation, and learning. Be intentional about how power dynamics will be identified and addressed, and how and when communities, evaluation participants, grant recipients, intended beneficiaries, and others will be engaged.

Grantee involvement is an important part of equitable evaluation work.

There are numerous examples of grant-making foundations working with grantees to develop evaluation processes and practices that are mutually beneficial. This includes bringing grantees to the table not only to meaningfully participate in evaluation design, but also data collection, analysis, interpretation, and utilization.

Rad Resources

The Equitable Evaluation Initiative’s Evaluation Framing Paper does an excellent job of laying out key things to consider around equity in philanthropy.

The FEAM Call to Action Series provides a series of products that propose tangible steps to make change in the field of grantmaking on the following urgent action areas: Strategy & Practice, Evaluators of Color, Knowledge Sharing, Global Challenges, and Collaboration & Partnership.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group (NPFTIG). The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our NPFTIG members. 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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