As a researcher and evaluator, I know all too well that evaluation can elicit a certain type of response from nonprofit and community practitioners. While I’m always hopeful that the response will be overwhelming joy, more often than not it more closely resembles fear that their program or initiative is about to come under harsh scrutiny or a series of blank looks waiting for the talk of outputs, outcomes, and metrics to be over. So what exactly IS the point of evaluation? And even more so, what does it have to do with furthering equity and systems change?
Simply put, evaluation is a tool for learning. Evaluation can help philanthropy to figure out return on investment and if strategies are aligned with the mission. Equitable evaluation can reveal whether the right people were at the table and what sort of decision-making power they had. At the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, we have a long-term commitment to learning with and from community about what sorts of interventions work to impact local racial equity issues and why. We strive to make the types of investments that will have a positive impact on our communities for generations to come. As a Foundation with a mission that focuses directly on place-based racial equity, we understand that the way we learn and evaluate our work must operate from a similar lens. Over the course of the next year, we are working to intentionally align our strategies with the way we learn and use data to further systems change.
Taking a cue from the Equitable Evaluation InitiativeTM, we will be working intentionally to challenge the traditional ways philanthropy has operated and the tightly held beliefs that have guided that work. This means we will be making sure that we look at how our internal processes are equitable at the same time as we look at our external facing strategies. It also means we will be taking a participatory approach to how we measure success. For example, are we asking the right questions? Is the work we are doing actual addressing the underlying drivers of racial inequities? Whose voices are shaping decisions?
The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg is learning and shifting and growing along with the communities with whom we work. Our evaluation strategies are reflective of that journey as well.
Stay tuned this year to follow along with us about what we are learning from our evaluation findings, research, and community partners.