The role of values in advancing field-level change by Meg Long and Clare Nolan

Hello, all! We are Meg Long of Equal Measure and Clare Nolan of Engage R&D, co-founders of FEAN, the Funder and Evaluator Affinity Network. FEAN’S goal is to change the relationship between funders and evaluators from a transactional one to a partnership, shifting the field of philanthropic evaluation to become fairer, more equitable, and more effective.

In 2019, FEAN hosted a discussion at the American Evaluation Association conference with co-presenters the Center for Evaluation Innovation and the Equitable Evaluation Initiative that began with a hypothesis: if our field-building work is based in values, there is greater likelihood that evaluation and learning will become a mechanism for advancing equity and social justice. We believe that embedding shared values in the for what and how will lead to results that get us closer to equity.

In addition, we articulated some basic shared values among funders and evaluators: inclusion, the need to create space for new and different influencers, collaboration over competition, and optimism. From there, the conversation became three-fold.

  1. While we agreed that philanthropic evaluation is a values-based field, there are individual values and organizational values; it is important to understand how these individual and organizational values complement or counter the values in the field.

  2. We need to pay attention when there is a competition between individual and organizational values.

  3. To advance equity as both a value and a principle, we need to redefine who we look to as “influencers.”

When seeking to influence philanthropy, it is critical to be explicit about the values that inform the changes you seek and the strategies you will use to get there.

Philanthropic evaluation is and needs to be culturally responsive and values-based. But many tensions exist. It is hard but essential work to reconcile our values and determine where they align and where they don’t. While we don’t have the answers, we know there are opportunities to operationalize our values, test where they conflict, and craft strategies to resolve them.  

In upcoming months, FEAN will be releasing a series of products for the field developed by action teams of FEAN members, facilitated by partnerships between evaluators and funders. The products will present our collective best thinking on key issues in the field, including knowledge sharing, encouraging collaboration on strategy and practice, developing collective expertise among evaluators, creating an ecosystem that supports evaluators of color, and how evaluation can support better responses to global challenges.

As we navigate new terrain in philanthropy, we believe more strongly than ever that funders and evaluators, working together in partnership and grounded in shared values, can find new and better solutions to urgent and systemic problems.

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