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PEAK Grantmaking

Using Evaluation to Advance Equity

In July, PEAK Grantmaking joined forces with five other philanthropy-serving organizations to announce our commitment to advancing the core principles of equitable evaluation among our members. The coalition of Associations Advancing Equitable Evaluations Practices (AAEEP) will partner with the Equitable Evaluation Initiative (EEI) to provide ideas, case studies, tools and resources for foundations wishing to ensure that their evaluation practices are consistent with their commitment to advancing equity.

This partnership is part of our ongoing commitment to provide grantmaking professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to drive equity within their own organizations. And as always, we are singularly focused on how grantmakers can effect long-lasting change through continuous improvement.

On September 18, we’re partnering to offer a webinar on Evaluation as a Tool for Equity – A Primer on Equitable Evaluation. During this session, we’ll explore the core principles of equitable evaluation and practical ideas on how you can apply them to your own work. We hope you can join us!

If you want to get started now, the EEI has created a framework for thinking about equitable evaluation. Here are three key takeaways.

1. The equity movement is driving change at foundations.

The number of foundations committing to equity work is growing, and the EEI’s scan of the sector reveals that foundations are using a variety of approaches to advance equity. Some foundations focus their effort and resources on changing their own organizational structures, policies and practices to reflect principles of equity internally. Other foundations re-engineer their external grantmaking efforts to address systemic barriers that create inequity or to promote equity for a specific population. Still other foundations do both.

Each of these approaches have varying degrees of impact on equity, but they all suggest a concerted effort on the part of foundations to examine all organizational functions through an equity lens and to do better based on what they find.

2. Evaluation is often the last organizational function to be examined through an equity lens.

Unfortunately, common evaluation practices often undermine equity work because evaluation is often the last function to be examined. Over time, the philanthropic sector has developed a set of deeply held beliefs about evaluation that most foundations consider to be “common sense.” The EEI calls these beliefs “orthodoxies.”

These orthodoxies include basic assumptions about:

  • Who gets to define programmatic success – usually the foundation alone;
  • Whose performance must be evaluated – always the grantee’s and never the foundation’s;
  • Who is selected to do the evaluating – individuals with traditional academic credentials and expertise who do not necessarily understand how to evaluate equity; and
  • What evaluation budgets tend to pay for – always standard data collection and reporting and never the creation or testing of culturally competent or participatory processes.

The sector’s failure to examine these basic assumptions about evaluation inadvertently reinforce and exacerbate inequity.

3. Evaluation can be used in service of equity.

The EEI’s principles for equitable evaluation begin with the premise that foundations and evaluators have a moral imperative to contribute to equity through evaluative work. More than that, evaluation should make advancing equity one of its aims. It should ask and answer questions about how historic and structural bias have contributed to inequity within the system being evaluated and how a strategy might have different effects on different populations. Finally, evaluative work should be created and deployed in multi-culturally valid and participatory ways.

If foundations wish to succeed in the vital work of improving outcomes for all in education, health care, economic prosperity and more, they must work to establish practices that advance equity. This includes changing the way the sector thinks about evaluation and its role in creating and refining equitable strategies.

Sign up for the webinar Evaluation as a Tool for Equity – A Primer on Equitable Evaluation to join this conversation with your peers.