To put community learning and insight at the center, we spent our first year engaging with over 1,500 people in Denver uncovering their thoughts on what needs to look different in our community. They helped us to interpret available data from community needs assessments and other sources as well as shared their own experiences so we could better understand what it will take to address mental health and substance misuse in our community. Their insights drove the creation of a shared impact plan (SIP), which is the basis of our grantmaking as well as our evaluation and learning approach. The SIP names three specific systemic shifts the community identified for addressing mental health and substance misuse: inclusive access, attention to fit, and care over time. It also identifies 12 signals of progress the community believes will help us know if the funded work is on the right path towards the intended impacts. In partnership with communities, we are using the SIP to explore, experiment, and refine work across the city and our learning approach allows us to be in dialogue in real time about those experiences.

We are aiming to push boundaries for how learning can drive insights, adaptations, and accountability in philanthropy. One way we directly do this is through our evaluation and learning approach with grantees. We designed an approach rooted in curiosity, transparency, collaboration, and honoring community members as experts. We’ve spent the past four years building, piloting, and adapting this approach, which includes the following essential components, which are also detailed in our Evaluation Touchpoints guide for grantees.

  1. A living project framework
  2. Collaborative learning calls
  3. Tailored evaluation support

We see signs of the trust and transparency our approach builds in several ways. Partner organizations are generally willing to share about the delays, mishaps, and lessons learned when grant accountability is centered on learning and adapting rather than perfectly executing on a funded proposal. Knowing the true state of the work rather than a well-intentioned but rose-tinted picture helps us better plan and support our grantees.

Read the full article about centering learning for better relationships by Haley Sammen at PEAK Grantmaking.