NPF TIG Week: Role of Evaluation Policies for Supporting Equity by Emily Kalnicky

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.”


Greetings! I am Emily Kalnicky, Director of Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning at the non-profit Partnership for Public Service, along with being an independent consultant. I started at the Partnership in February 2021, and I am responsible for developing, implementing, and overseeing policies and procedures for all monitoring, evaluation, and learning activities, as well as building capacity for their use.

One tool I have found particularly helpful in establishing a foundation for both the importance of and an approach for incorporating equity in evaluation practices, is the development of an organizational evaluation policy.

Below, I highlight a few lessons learned as I worked to develop and implement the first evaluation policy for a 20-year-old non-profit organization.

Lessons Learned

Focus on the “what, why, who, and how.”

An effective evaluation policy is more than just a static document. If the document is effective, it is developed collaboratively, updated regularly, addresses equity, and answers key questions everyone in the organization would be interested in knowing. We chose to start our policy document explicitly stating the “what, why, who, and how” in succinct statements, so if someone only read those brief statements, they would still be able to understand the role of the policy.

Structural racism exists in every organization.

Our policy includes sections on scope and application, responsibilities, rigor and standards, relevance and utility, transparency, objectivity and independence, ethics, and process. Throughout the document we describe culturally responsive, anti-racist, and decolonizing methods. We also provide a brief background on the historical context of evaluation and social science research, focused on ethical conduct. For some individuals in your organization, this history of oppression in the field of evaluation may be new, so it is important to call it out in your policy and be explicit in how you aim to address this in your evaluation work at your organization.

Connect to federal or other relevant guidelines.

Does your organization do work with specific sectors? Take time to review what guidelines or resources already exist for how they do evaluation. For my organization, it made sense to align our evaluation policy with the guidelines developed for our federal partners, including the M-21-27 Evidence-Based Policymaking: Learning Agendas and Annual Evaluation Plans released in June 2021 and other general guidance on evaluation and decision-making. If you are at a Foundation, you would want to include sections that align with things you are assessing or asking your grantees to report on. If you are at a non-profit organization, you may consider reviewing what exists at other similar non-profit organizations.

Rad Resources

As I mentioned in my lessons learned, if the evaluation policy is to be effective, it really needs to be usable by everyone in the organization (and people outside the organization).

Below are a couple of resources I found helpful for thinking through two key areas of the evaluation policy: defining “rigor” and thinking through the ways organizations may unknowingly uphold systems of oppression. These resources were helpful to me both in designing the policy, and for building capacity for better incorporating equity throughout evaluation practice in a non-profit organization.

  • Redefining Rigor: Describing Quality Evaluation in Complex, Adaptive Settings: Looking for a resource to help define what you mean by “rigor”, Preskill and Lynn share some helpful framing thoughts.
  • White Supremacy Culture: While there are many resources to help understand what it means for an organization to uphold a culture of white supremacy and oppression, I find Okun’s collective resource and website, comprehensive, and useful for starting conversations at work.

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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