NPF TIG Week: Equitable Disaster Response Evaluation by Michelle Lawrence Bidwell, Steve Mumford, and Kellie Chavez Greene.

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 there! We are Michelle Lawrence Bidwell, MPH, of Granted Advisors, Prof. Steve Mumford of the University of New Orleans, and Kellie Chavez Greene, Vice President for Programs at the Greater New Orleans Foundation. We are members of the Gulf Coast Eval Network (GCEval), a local affiliate of AEA based in New Orleans. On August 29, 2021, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Category 4 Hurricane Ida struck our region of Southeast Louisiana, causing devastating damage.

In the two months following the devastation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation raised and disbursed over $3 million in operating grants through its Disaster Response & Restoration Fund. Grants supported more than 70 trusted nonprofits conducting myriad activities essential for immediate disaster response. These nonprofits are embedded within and reflective of the communities they serve.

The Foundation wanted to assess the impact of their rapid response grantmaking, improve their response to future disasters, and better understand communities’ long-term recovery needs. They prioritized an equitable hurricane response and recovery, so the evaluation also needed to be equity-focused.

Lessons Learned

To engage in equitable evaluation in partnership with grantees, we adopted a three-pronged design: (1) streamlined grant reports, (2) adapted PhotoVoice interviews, and (3) focus groups with grantees. We learned a lot:

  1. Simplify the grant report. All nonprofits, and particularly those responding to disasters, need flexible reporting requirements to funders. But, as a funding intermediary, the Foundation faced its own reporting requirements. To balance these responsibilities and reduce burden on grantees, the Foundation conducted brief grant applications with pre-vetted nonprofits over the phone, in some cases after grants had already been disbursed. Evaluators continued this streamlined approach for interim reports four months later, retaining the phone option and asking grantees to simply update information from their application based on completed activities. Instructions made it clear that adjustments to plans were not only allowed, but celebrated.
  2. Create a platform for nonprofits to tell their stories on their terms. Evaluators conducted semi-structured interviews with select grantee representatives to elicit personal stories about their experiences of disaster response and community’s ongoing needs. To facilitate this process, we adapted the PhotoVoice methodology: interviewees were asked to share a set of photographs taken at various points before, during, and after the hurricane, and talk about thoughts and feelings that arose for each one. Our team was careful to follow ethical storytelling practices and center grantee partners’ voices. The photographs helped simplify the process while bringing their powerful stories to life.
  3. Focus groups can help foster a support system among grantees. Disasters are traumatic experiences, especially for community-based first responders who are themselves displaced, and even more so for those who also led responses to Hurricane Katrina and other past disasters. To facilitate peer learning and an opportunity to process their experiences, we conducted a series of focus groups in locations close to their work. We were careful to adopt trauma-informed evaluation approaches, including by ensuring focus groups were conducted by a skilled facilitator (Michelle) who could relate to the participants and build rapport, emphasizing confidentiality, honoring participants’ time with a nice meal and stipend, and demonstrating empathy and compassion. In turn, participants remarked that sharing with others who had endured similar challenges was cathartic and inspired new connections and collaborations.

Disaster response evaluation can be emotionally exhausting for all involved, yet when done through an equity lens, can also inspire and reinvigorate. By centering grantee partners’ voices, we attempted to show respect for their work and wisdom and prioritize authentic relationship-building. We hope to share more when we welcome you to or home for Evaluation 2022

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 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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