Strengthening the Field of Philanthropic Evaluation by Clare Nolan and Meg Long by Clare Nolan and Meg Long

We are Clare Nolan, Co-Founder of Engage R+D, and Meg Long, President, of Equal Measure. As leaders of evaluation firms dedicated to working with social sector organizations to deepen their impact, we recognize the importance of network strategies as a way to advance field development and learning.

At the recent 2018 AEA conference, we convened nearly 100 funders and evaluators as part of a growing affinity network to reflect on what it would take to strengthen the field of philanthropic evaluation. Through crowd-sourcing, participants identified some key ways in which the affinity network can provide a value-add to the field. Below are some insights from our convening and related field resources and tools.

  1. Philanthropic evaluation can benefit from more guidance on how evaluation should be used to inform strategy and decision-making in philanthropy. Evaluators and funders see the need for common principles and tools (e.g., trainings, articles, case studies) for evaluators working with and within philanthropy. These tools could help improve the application of evaluation in philanthropic strategy and practice.
  1. Creating a “market place” for knowledge sharing can help to broaden the audience for evaluation beyond individual organizations. There is general agreement between evaluators and funders around the need to do better at sharing knowledge, building evidence, and being willing to share what foundations are learning – both successes and failures. Built-in incentives within organizations can further support transparency and accountability.
    • Rad Resource: IssueLab and Evaluation Roundtable are some resources that support the creation of a culture of knowledge sharing through their research and publications.
  2. Supporting evaluator partnerships in philanthropy can lead to greater collaboration and knowledge sharing, and reduce competition. Partnerships have worked well where there are established relationships and trust and when power dynamics are minimized.  Evaluators and funders identified the need for more examples of promising models and practices for successful collaborations between evaluators.
  • Rad Resource: This new report, Weaving Successful Partnerships, looks at the dynamics of funder-intermediary-evaluator partnerships, including two cases that highlight successful collaboration among evaluators.
  1. The need for new voices and diverse perspectives in our fields is broadly recognized as essential to making progress on pressing equity issues. Despite growing efforts to bring individuals with diverse lived experiences and perspectives into the field, it remains far too homogeneous. Funders and evaluators must consider how they recruit and support new and diverse talent to fit the field’s evolving needs.

The affinity network’s next step is to explore action team options to focus on the issues discussed above.  If you are interested in learning more or would like to join the network, please contact Pilar Mendoza (pmendoza@engagerd.com).

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.

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