OL-ECB TIG Week: Learning and Evaluation Capacity Building for Philanthropic Organizations and Their Grantees While Flipping the Orthodoxies around Evaluation That Are Incongruent With Equity Work by Ava Yang-Lewis and Mark Lewis

Greetings! We’re Ava Yang-Lewis and Mark Lewis, Co-founders of ACT Research. In our work, we know that equitable evaluation processes and effective use of evaluation is as much about individual mindset and organizational culture (those tightly held beliefs about evaluation practice) as it is about actual evaluation approaches, methods, and tools. Over the last eight years, much of our work has been about learning and evaluation capacity building (L+ECB) with foundations and their grantees while flipping orthodoxies in foundation and nonprofit culture around evaluation that are incongruent with equity work.

Quick Observations about L+ECB Demand

We are thrilled to see that more and more foundations are wanting to move away from static evaluation reporting that is heavily focused on output numbers and prescribed outcomes and are hoping to move toward supporting grantee and foundation learning that builds more equitable and actionable understanding that can help support success and impact in an ever-changing and complex world. We are also seeing an increasing demand for organizational L+ECB. We are hearing from grantees that they believe learning and evaluation can increase the effectiveness of their staff and organizations and improve services/programs, but they often don’t have the capacity (e.g., staff, time, skills/knowledge, budget, etc.) or even know how to begin. 

Lessons Learned

Tangible Ways to FIip the Orthodoxies in Foundation and Grantee Culture Around Evaluation That Are Incongruent With Equity Work:

  • Community engagement: Philanthropic organizations partner with communities, grantees, and those most impacted by the social change issue to define priority areas and what success looks like.
  • Fostering partnerships, collaboration, and mutual accountability. Accountability not just of grantees to funders, but funders to grantees, and grantees and funders to a broader social change agenda. Given a history of harmful evaluation practices, philanthropic organizations must first focus on building relationships and trust. 
  • Prioritize grantees as the primary users of evaluation. Grantees define which outputs and outcomes to track within priority areas, what more they need to learn, and what feedback they need to improve their organizational effectiveness and programs/services.
  • Meeting each individual, organization/institution, and system where they are in their evaluation journey.
  • Evaluation is enabling, not extractive.
  • Focus on learning & development: Evaluation capacity building is focused on learning and continuous development.
  • Driving home that evaluation processes and results are most often cultural- and context-specific. 
  • Learning and evaluation capacity building initiatives are appropriately resourced and supported. 
  • Philanthropic organizations leverage resources outside of grant dollars – e.g., convenings, communities of practice, learning trips, and supporting learning and evaluation consultation and TA as needed. 
  • Embed L+ECB in social systems. 
  • As evaluators, we model embracing complexity. 
  • Recognizing that, as evaluators, we are not objective. The relational nature and sometimes long-term engagement involved in L+ECB work means that we have come to personally know the foundations and their grantees and have a strong commitment and personal interest in their overall successes. 

Rad Resources

Equitable Evaluation Framework: A framework we’ve used in our work to examine evaluation orthodoxies in equity work.

A Foundation Theory of Philanthropy: What It Is, What It Provides, How to Do It: A tool we’ve used to embed L+ECB at the organization-level.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Organizational Learning and Evaluation Capacity Building (OL-ECB) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our OL-ECB TIG 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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