As we reach the time when many grantees have submitted final grant reports for the previous year’s efforts, what better time to reflect and elaborate on the problems with grantee reporting requirements discussed by Kevin Bolduc’s post on the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) blog? As a network of foundation evaluation and learning directors, we believe shifting reporting requirements is an incremental step in a time that demands more transformational change. Better to ask: what is the intent of reporting? If the purpose is to learn, a better way forward becomes more evident.

Imagine a future in which humanity has managed to solve society’s most significant challenges — a world where people live with full agency over their lives in just and healthy communities. Now imagine this achievement happening without collective learning and accountability toward greater effectiveness. You can’t because it wouldn’t be possible.

Since no one entity or organization holds the solutions to the complex issues we face, to successfully respond, we must deeply invest in learning and growing together, across disciplines and differences, iteratively and quickly. For foundations, this means learning and changing in ways that rectify the disproportionate power and influence we hold. It means strengthening our capacity for gathering feedback, critical inquiry, and learning in ways that surface how our grantmaking is or is not advancing equitable outcomes, including by adopting practices described in the Equitable Evaluation Framework and Holding Foundations Accountable for Equity Commitments.

Looking at reporting requirements within this broader learning context also points to the critical need to more often learn by listening to people most impacted by our grants. Why? Because making durable change on the ground requires working with people in communities. This learning frame also points to the need for foundations to prioritize growing capacity internally with staffing and resources to engage with grantee partners for the purpose of learning for adaptation.

With those changes, we’ll be more likely to move away from the current practice of individual foundations being the curators and assumed audience of evaluation learning. With a more collective orientation, we’ll see an increase in transparency and access to data that enables more collaborative ecosystems of learning. In order to get there, bigger picture investments in the enterprise of learning might include:

  • Incorporating learning and information gathering as a core strategy in our work for transformation
  • Funding movement and field-level learning over the long term
  • Investing in complexity-aware evaluation methods
  • Supporting a pipeline of evaluators equipped with culturally responsive and equitable evaluation expertise
  • Mobilizing collective learning and knowledge creation through convening, engagement, and publication
  • Equitably addressing underinvestment in grantee learning staff and systems over the long term

Read the full article about what is next by Meredith Blair Pearlman and Carolina De La Rosa Mateo at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.