In order to measure something, one must have a “standard”: an agreed-upon yardstick, so to speak, by which things are evaluated and compared. When measuring is extended from the concrete (say, the dimensions of a room in a house) to societal applications (such as measuring the social impact of a program on a community), it is very far from neutral. Who has designed the yardstick, who is doing the measuring, and who is doing the evaluating have significant implications for the “outcomes”/“outputs” produced by social impact measurement and evaluation. Indeed, the significance given to such outcomes, the values placed on them, and any analysis brought forward from them are intrinsically culture-laden.

None of us has ever seen or fully experienced a truly equitable organization or society; so, how are we to hold to measures that likely have never captured the full picture of impact or even depicted what that full picture could be? When you add to that the racial makeup of the research community historically, a lack of equity expertise among research practitioners, and the annual demand for outputs from funders, you ensure a recipe for measurement and evaluation that, at best, cannot effectively tell the stories of Black communities, and, at worst, promulgates inaccurate and harmful ones.

Historically, assessments used by nonprofits and philanthropy have not valued the perspective of communities—especially that of Black communities, Indigenous communities, and others—but instead focused on measuring outputs that organizations defined as success. We have centered values often present in white-centric spaces, and highlight what donors request to see. This is slowly shifting, and a focus on developing pro-Black measurement and evaluation processes and tools is burgeoning. We see a beautiful opportunity here to study these tensions in the composition, administration, and analysis of measurement and evaluation, and design pro-Black approaches to the practice whereby impact equals what Black people need to thrive.3

Our understanding of impact and of what equity and justice can look like continues to evolve; consequently, what to look for and how to measure it does, too. This means that previous measures will be insufficient, again and again, as our learning of what’s possible in an equitable world deepens.

As a community of practitioners working to advance racial justice, the three of us have often found ourselves discussing the understanding, importance, and practice of measurement and its impact on our work. We present this article as a reflection of our learning, our hopes, and the opportunities we see when partnering with measurement professionals to center equity, diversity, inclusion, and antiracism (EDIAR) in the work.

Read the full article about equitable evaluation practices by Angela Romans, Candace Stanciel, and Titilola Harley at Nonprofit Quarterly.