Giving Compass’ Take:
• This Johnson Center post examines how foundations and evaluators can better engage communities and “move the needle” for the people they serve.
• The evaluation process recommended here consists of four main phases: planning, implementation, analysis, and reporting. How will are we doing in each area?
Foundation staff and boards often look to answer a deceptively simple question, “Are we moving the needle?” But there’s a bigger question at stake: whose needle are we talking about?
I recently attended the American Evaluation Association’s Evaluation 2018 Conference: Speaking Truth to Power. I was inspired by presentations that explored the inherent power-dynamics between foundations and nonprofits and those who went even further — delving into how these dynamics impact communities and social movements. This led me to wonder, is it enough to use best practices, community data, and nonprofit feedback to accomplish the work? Are we really engaging the right stakeholders? Ultimately, are we even trying to move the right needles?
The Equitable Evaluation Initiative’s website (“Why EE,” n.d.) states that the current paradigm of evaluation, “looks for generalizable and scaled data and findings that often feel disconnected and not reflective of the values of the nonprofit/community partner.” As one example, how often have we reported back to clients or community members about the data we ask nonprofits to gather? How often do we ask their perceptions about our findings? I, like many in the sector, started working to make conditions so that everyone can set and achieve their goals on a level field. Evaluation helps us see how close we are to achieving those conditions. But, are we even looking at the right conditions?
When we look for changes in community, we typically track changes in behaviors and conditions (e.g. increased household income, increased test scores, increased graduation rates, increased percentage of people with health insurance, etc.). These changes cannot occur without changes in beliefs and attitudes from those we engage — community members.
Read the full article about moving the needle in philanthropy by Elizabeth Gordillo at johnsoncenter.org.
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