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How do you know if your organization or programs are achieving the impact you seek? How do you figure out how to get better at what you do? Performance measurement isn’t solely a yardstick for success—it’s also a tool for learning and decision making that helps you improve.
Indeed, the greatest value of performance measurement is in its power to help leaders figure out how their organizations can do better. And equitable measurement is vital to getting the full value out of an evaluation. Measuring with equity means incorporating a range of voices and viewpoints, including those with the least traditional power, and putting the challenges and solutions from your community and constituents at the core of how you think about impact. Communities and constituents know what they need better than anyone. As a result, they should be engaged as partners in the measurement process rather than as “beneficiaries.”
That was the crux of a 2020 letter to the Chronicle of Philanthropy written by staff from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, the Oregon Community Foundation, and other funders. They argued: “When evaluation is equitable, we begin with questions about who gets to assign meaning or value, what needs to be evaluated, and why a particular evaluation is selected. The understanding of impact will be incomplete, if not outright wrong, if the process is driven only by the interests and values of the most powerful stakeholders.”
Funders, of course, are powerful stakeholders, and they continue to exert a strong influence over how the social sector conducts performance measurement. Sometimes that can cause harm. But there is an ongoing shift in the field to provide nonprofits and NGOs with more space to tailor their measurement approaches less to the needs of funders and more to the needs and ambitions of the constituents and communities an organization serves. For example, organizations including the Equitable Evaluation Initiative and Fund for Shared Insight are catalyzing the field for equitable measurement and offer tools and resources from which nonprofits and funders can learn.
As we ourselves have worked to incorporate equity in our measurement approach, we’ve seen more and more nonprofits and NGOs likewise seeking to measure with equity. This article shares some of these examples and offers practical advice for leaders on how to improve their evaluation and learning—by embedding practices that promote equitable forms of measurement, evaluation, and learning. Though the examples used in this article are from NGOs or nonprofits that provide direct services or advocacy (rather than intermediaries, field builders, or collaboratives), we believe the methods discussed here can be used by a wide range of social sector leaders who want to get better at weaving equity considerations into their day-to-day, year-on-year improvement efforts.
Read the full article about incorporating equity by Mariah Collins, Sebastian Gonzalez, Elias Rosenfeld, Bradley Seeman at The Bridgespan Group.