Sonia Worcel and Kim Leonard on Learning Communities & Evaluation: How evaluators rely on, make use of, and assess learning communities as part of funding initiatives

We are Sonia Worcel, VP for Strategy and Research, and Kim Leonard, Senior Evaluation Officer, from The Oregon Community Foundation. Our post shares highlights from the roundtable session at Evaluation 2015 during which we discussed the ways we are working within and assessing the success of several OCF learning communities.

The Research team at The Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) is currently conducting program evaluations of several OCF funding initiatives, including an out-of-school-time initiative, an arts education initiative, and a children’s dental health initiative. Learning communities are an integral component of each of these initiatives.

“A learning community is a group of practitioners who, while sharing a common concern or question, seek to deepen their understanding of a given topic by learning together as they pursue their individual work….”

– Learn and Let Learn, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations

Hot Tip: Learning communities are a tool used by grant makers to support ongoing learning and sharing among grantees and other stakeholders.

One goal for learning communities is evaluation capacity building. Through learning community events, the evaluation team provides training and technical assistance to grantees about logic modeling, evaluation planning, data collection and use of data.

Lesson Learned: Learning communities are also an important resource for evaluators; a way to access grantees to plan evaluation activities inclusively, to gather data, and to make meaning of and disseminate evaluation results.

OCF’s evaluations of these initiatives are utilization-focused and aim to be as culturally responsive as possible. As such, we rely heavily upon the learning communities to communicate with grantees to ensure appropriateness and usefulness of evaluation activities and results.

Rad Resource: The learning communities are also subject to evaluation themselves. In addition to focusing on outcomes for the grantee organizations and participating children and youth, OCF is evaluating the success of the overall initiatives, including their learning communities. As we explore what success will look like, we are developing a framework and rubric, to define and assess the quality and value of each learning community. The draft rubric is included in the materials we’ve posted in the AEA e-library from our session.

Lesson Learned: One important takeaway for us from the roundtable session came through questions about how we will engage our grantees in using the rubric, rather than using it primarily internally at the foundation, as we’ve done so far. (Answer: we don’t know yet!)

Hot Tip: There are a number of potentially handy resources that can help evaluators work with learning communities that are part of funding initiatives. Here are two of our recent favorites:

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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