NPF TIG Week: Hanh Cao Yu on Learning and Adaptability in Field-Building

Greetings from Hanh Cao Yu of Social Policy Research Associates. Building on 20 years of experience working with foundations, my organization served as the evaluator on a number of multi-year foundation-initiated efforts to tackle tough social issues through transforming entire fields and movements. The SPR team has just completed a 5-year evaluation of an initiative called the Strong Field Project (SFP) by the Blue Shield of California Foundation. The SFP aimed to strengthen the domestic violence (DV) field in California. This body of work contributes to philanthropy’s knowledge on what it takes to build a field and our knowledge on evaluating field-building work.

Lessons Learned:

  • A thoughtful participatory process ensured a sense of ownership of the logic model and outcomes of the initiative. Our first step was to devote the time needed to collaboratively engage several dozen foundation staff, intermediary partners, and an advisory group to establish a clear, guiding logic model. Looking back, the inclusiveness of this process served to increase key partners and DV leaders’ buy-in to the enormity of the challenges confronting the field, complexity of the initiative, and potential payoffs.
  • Emphasis on a learning culture allowed for nimbleness and adaptatibility. A touchstone of this evaluation was partners’ value of learning which encouraged the flexibility to incorporate critical feedback and make substantial adjustments to the strategies and outcomes.   According to a foundation staff: “Having the evaluation as a tool for field building is one of my lessons…and understanding the value around that to take a learning approach to make course corrections.” In addition, fidelity to regularly revisiting the SFP Logic Model as the program’s “north star” kept the initiative on course despite tremendous foundation staff and partnership turnover throughout the 5 years.
  • Mixed methods enabled us to tell a rich story of the field-level impacts. We used a mixed-methods and innovative approaches to assess progress towards the nine SFP outcomes. The methods included: five waves of in-depth interviews with hundreds of SFP stakeholders; time-series social network and alumni survey; field-wide event evaluations, collaborator/“outsider-in” field leader interviews, and in-depth leader profiles and organizational case studies.

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group (NPFTIG) Week. 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.


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