“We have not succeeded in answering all our problems. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole set of new questions. In some ways we feel we are as confused as ever, but we believe we are confused on a higher level and about more important things.”
—Earl C. Kelly, educator, The Workshop Way of Learning
For the past six months, Funders Together to End Homelessness, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), PEAK Grantmaking, and Southern California Grantmakers (SCG) have been on a journey of self-reflection and situational assessment to explore principles from the Equitable Evaluation Framework™(EEF) and consider long-standing beliefs and assumptions in our learning and evaluation practices that show up as orthodoxies.
Together, we launched the Making the Case Collaboratory in February of this year learning opportunity to learn more about the Equitable Evaluation Initiative™, we shared news of this partnership and learning opportunity. Our commitment to our membership was to document and share our discoveries, and our hope for other philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) is for this collaborative to serve as a model for PSOs to reimagine not only collaboration on racial equity work and learning opportunities for their members but ideally individual and organizational transformation and greater alignment.
This blog post is the first installment in a two-part series of reflections. In our next blog post, we’ll share reflections from funders across the country that participated in this experience with us.
What we explored as PSOs
Over six months, the Equitable Evaluation Initiative team led three intensive learning sessions that bookended monthly peer coaching calls, during which champions from each of the four PSOs learned alongside twenty-one of our members. During these calls, the Equitable Evaluation Initiative team pushed us to uncover and understand assumptions in how we currently think about evaluation while a graphic facilitator, Emily Shepherd, used visuals to reflect our thinking and questions back to us.
In between the three, four-hour sessions led by the Equitable Evaluation Initiative team, the four organizing PSOs met and shared our reflections with each other. Though we are four different PSOs, we are dedicated to finding ways to collaborate, especially given an overlap in our membership. To that end, we asked ourselves, “What are the assumptions and key questions that underpin our vision for our work?”
In our conversations, we asked each other:
- What do we currently measure and evaluate, and why? What does that tell us about our values, relationships, voice, and power?
- How do we shift our internal learning and evaluation to better align with our missions and values and be in service of equity?
- How do we shift philanthropic culture so that evaluation is in service of equity and reflects equity in its process?
When the change we’re seeking is complex, non-linear, and ongoing, it can be difficult to recognize progress while in process. We unpacked the language we use, and how indicators might be more rigid and less helpful than indications of change. For example, we talked about how, in addition to measuring the what of our programming (e.g., what funders are learning and what funders are doing), we can also think about the how (e.g., how conversations are changing, how funders are showing up differently in communities).
With systems change, recognizing progress while engaged in a process can be tricky, but even asking questions like, “Are we grappling with better problems than we were last year?” and thinking about those answers indicates forward movement.
Although this six-month learning journey has come to an end, together, Funders Together to End Homelessness, GEO, PEAK Grantmaking, and Southern California Grantmakers are committed to meeting regularly through the rest of 2021 to continue sharing and learning together, acting as a sounding board for each other, and supporting each other in accountability for field-level change. We welcome you to reach out to us if you’re curious to learn more about our experience in the Making the Case Collaboratory and the ways our being, thinking and doing is evolving as a result.
Several of our members will continue with EEI as Equipping for Transformation Practice Partners, which is a two-year commitment. They join other foundations from around the country as well as a small group of consultants and non-profits engaged in play, practice and praxis as they internalize the principles of the Equitable Evaluation Framework™ and challenge orthodoxies.
We are honored to build this field together, and look forward to this wisdom, and the questions, along the way.
Illustration: A mind map by Emily Shepard, resident artist and graphic facilitator at the Equitable Evaluation Initiative™.