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Harnessing Evaluation and Learning for Equity and Impact Insights for Foundation Executives

November 1, 2022

Grantmaking foundations are increasingly using E&L functions in diverse ways. A 2019 survey from the Center for Evaluation Innovation found that 42 percent of foundations had a dedicated E&L unit or department that functioned separately from the program department, up from 34 percent in 2015.The survey also shows that E&L staff fill numerous and evolving roles including directing and managing evaluation work within the foundation; supporting broader team and organizational learning efforts, including equity work; supporting strategy development and review; and providing advice or coaching about evaluation to other staff. Beyond the foundation's walls, many E&L teams contribute to the fields of evaluation and philanthropy by sharing actionable knowledge or learning strategies with peer organizations. Field-building increases the influence and impact of a foundation by helping to advance philanthropic thought leadership and E&L practices more broadly.But leveraging the power of evaluation and learning is easier said than done. This guide is a resource for foundation executives interested in harnessing the power of evaluation and learning for impact. It was developed by Engage R+D with support from The James Irvine Foundation, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Center for Evaluation Innovation, and Kresge Foundation. It is based on our study of the E&L function across these three diverse foundations, all of which champion the Equitable Evaluation Initiative and are on their own equity journeys.

Evaluation and Learning at Foundations: A Field Guide

April 18, 2022

This brief grew out of conversations with evaluation and learning leaders working in foundations across the United States about both the value of evaluation and learning in philanthropy, and the challenges of implementing this function well across diverse institutional contexts. Our intent is to provide practical guidance that new and existing leaders can use to navigate their roles in support of more effective and equitable philanthropy. It is based on indepth case studies of the Irvine, Kauffman, and Kresge Foundations along with our own experience partnering with foundations on evaluation, strategy, and learning efforts.

Broader Participation, Broader Benefit: Increasing the Value of Foundation Evaluation

April 9, 2021

In recent years, philanthropy has been grappling with calls for increased transparency and more inclusive processes when it comes to making decisions about the best use of its resources. Some foundations have responded by focusing on listening, experimenting with participatory grantmaking, and exploring what it means to center equity in their work. Despite such promising efforts, foundation evaluation and learning practices largely remain unchanged. That is, foundations continue to roll out evaluations in the traditional way: funders craft requests for proposals with limited consultation from others, evaluators develop their approaches in silos, and one design is selected for implementation. The needs of foundations often take precedence over those of others with potential to benefit. This learning brief is about the possibility of what can happen when more voices are included in the process of evaluation design. It tells the story of how Engage R+D partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to apply a creative, participatory technique—known as a design charrette—to engage a broad variety of stakeholders in collaboratively designing a summative evaluation of Networks for School Improvement, one of the Foundation's signature K-12 investments.

Advancing Evaluation Practice to Meet Global Challenges: A call to action and reflection

October 21, 2020

Working together, foundations and evaluators can contribute to global transformation necessary to address the world's most pressing problems.Funders and evaluators based primarily in the US and Canada have been collaborating on shared priorities through the Funder and Evaluator Affinity Network (FEAN) since 2017. The goal of FEAN 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, the conversation expanded to consider issues of interest to FEAN members working in the international arena.The vision inspiring this paper is one in which North American foundations and evaluators can make significant contributions to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as allies with people across the globe whose lives are most closely impacted by pressing challenges including climate change, migration, pandemics, growing authoritarianism, disparities and instabilities, and the depletion of critical resources.The recommendations outlined in this paper are a starting point, an invitation to both reflection and action. We explore how foundations and evaluators can nurture and grow a robust, inclusive ecosystem of what we are calling evaluation for global transformation (EGT). Such an ecosystem is necessary to co-create the paths by which funders and evaluators can catalyze innovative thinking and undertake coordinated action with others in support of global transformation.The working paper takes a critical look at the current state of EGT and what it will take to position evaluation to advance effective, equitable and sustainable global transformation efforts. It begins with defining global transformation and its importance, describing the ways in which global development is evolving, and the growing role that philanthropy is playing within this arena.Next, it lays out an analysis of the current state of evaluation and resulting recommendations, building from conversations that took place among members of the Funder and Evaluator Affinity Network during 2019.

Advancing Global Evaluation Practice to Meet the World’s Challenges: A Call to Action and Reflection

October 20, 2020

Working together, foundations and evaluators can contribute to global transformation necessary to address the world's most pressing problems.Funders and evaluators based primarily in the US and Canada have been collaborating on shared priorities through the Funder and Evaluator Affinity Network (FEAN) since 2017. The goal of FEAN 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, the conversation expanded to consider issues of interest to FEAN members working in the international arena.The vision inspiring this paper is one in which North American foundations and evaluators can make significant contributions to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as allies with people across the globe whose lives are most closely impacted by pressing challenges including climate change, migration, pandemics, growing authoritarianism, disparities and instabilities, and the depletion of critical resources.The recommendations outlined in this paper are a starting point, an invitation to both reflection and action. We explore how foundations and evaluators can nurture and grow a robust, inclusive ecosystem of what we are calling evaluation for global transformation (EGT). Such an ecosystem is necessary to co-create the paths by which funders and evaluators can catalyze innovative thinking and undertake coordinated action with others in support of global transformation.The working paper takes a critical look at the current state of EGT and what it will take to position evaluation to advance effective, equitable and sustainable global transformation efforts. It begins with defining global transformation and its importance, describing the ways in which global development is evolving, and the growing role that philanthropy is playing within this arena.Next, it lays out an analysis of the current state of evaluation and resulting recommendations, building from conversations that took place among members of the Funder and Evaluator Affinity Network during 2019.

More than Listening: Harnessing the Power of Feedback to Drive Collaborative Learning

August 1, 2019

Foundations can and should do a better job of gathering feedback from and learning with both grantees and the communities they seek to serve. This type of collaborative learning has the potential to inform and strengthen foundation strategy, grantmaking practices, evaluation, and communications. Gathering meaningful input is difficult, however, given power dynamics between foundations and those they support. Even when authentic input has been gathered, it can be difficult to apply insights to ongoing work.What does it look like for a foundation to get feedback from its grantee and community stakeholders? Much of the feedback discussions taking place in the sector center on the role of nonprofit organizations. This article explores how foundations can harness the power of feedback to improve philanthropic practice, using the experiences of the James Irvine Foundation as a case example. It provides information about the foundation and its commitment to constituent feedback, presents two cases from its own experience gathering feedback from community stakeholders and grantee partners, and then lays out a series of culminating lessons and insights based on this work.Overall, Irvine believes that collaborative learning requires more than just listening. To truly harness the power of feedback, foundations must act on what they are hearing, share how they are responding with those who provided feedback, and open up this learning to others who can benefit. To do this effectively, foundations must evolve their internal organizational practices to better incorporate external perspectives.

Evaluators as Conduits and Supports for Foundation Learning

March 1, 2019

Evaluators play a critical role in supporting philanthropic learning, programming, and strategy, but evaluation and learning in philanthropy is often limited in ways that impede deeper resonance and impact. Most philanthropic evaluation is focused on the needs of individual foundations, knowledge sharing with the broader field is limited, and foundations struggle to integrate evaluation and learning as a management tool. This article makes the case that evaluators and funders can do more to build the collective capacity of evaluators working in philanthropy in order to enhance their contributions to community change. This article also examines the ways that evaluation in philanthropy is evolving, lays out root causes of its limitations, and looks at emerging tools, techniques, and lessons that showcase new ways evaluators and funders are working together to strengthen practice.

By Us and For Us: A Story of Early Childhood Development Systems Change and Results in a Rural Context

December 1, 2018

Since 2007, the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund — a donor-advised fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation — has invested in early childhood development in Coös County — New Hampshire's largest and most rural and economically disadvantaged county. Community providers from a range of disciplines formed strong professional relationships and agreed on common goals and evidence-based strategies to improve services for children and families. This article describes how local community members joined forces with the fund to create an integrated early childhood development system for Coös' children and families. It provides background on the investment and initiative strategy, summarizes key results, and outlines lessons for funders and others pursuing systems change efforts in early learning, in rural areas, or more broadly. With increasing interest in strategies to promote childhood resilience, school readiness, and community revitalization, Coös County's rural story of relationship and community systems change can inform the field.

Open for Good: Knowledge Sharing to Strengthen Grantmaking

April 30, 2018

Knowledge has the power to spark change, but only if it is shared. In this GrantCraft guide, grantmakers make a strong case for foundations to openly share knowledge as an integral and strategic aspect of philanthropy. Learn from their firsthand experience how to grow organizational capacity and culture for knowledge sharing, address common concerns, and use knowledge exchange to advance your mission and impact.

Starting Smart and Strong: Supporting Community-Led Systems Change

January 1, 2018

In March 2014, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation launched Starting Smart and Strong. Through this ten-year effort, the Foundation is partnering with three California communities to test and scale solutions that support parents, caregivers, and educators as they prepare children to be healthy and ready for school, with self-confidence and a love of learning. Three years into Starting Smart and Strong, grantee communities have accomplished a great deal. All three have built important cross-sector partnerships, established a vision of comprehensive systems of care, and implemented new approaches to serving children and their families.

Foundations as Network Strategists, Weavers, and Managers: Learning From One Foundation’s Journey and Results

June 30, 2017

This article shares insights from a five-year evaluation of the Oral Health 2020 network, an effort by the DentaQuest Foundation to align and strengthen efforts in service of a national movement to improve oral health. The evaluation helped to place the foundation's journey in the context of a broader field seeking new approaches to achieve deep and sustainable social change. The foundation's approach was informed by several ideas that have gained momentum in the social sector, including collective impact, networks, systems change, and equity – all of which challenged the foundation to take a nontraditional approach that combined the roles of network hub, weaver, and backbone organization. Six years in, the network has achieved notable successes, but along the way the foundation and its partners learned numerous lessons about what it takes to build and sustain a national network. This article shares those lessons, and also considers changes in federal policy and their implications.