Over the past several weeks, I’ve (Deven) been reflecting on how organizations (specifically community-based non-profit organizations) engage in evaluation. The activity can often feel like an afterthought; one in which boxes are being checked and a report is being delivered but without a clear or substantive why or for whom (I.e., why do we want to evaluate and for whom are we doing it). As I’m asked to show up in the spaces, either to guide formal evaluation projects or to speak to topics like cultivating a culture oriented towards using data to inform decisions, exploring these feelings felt particularly important.
In my exploration, I realized that even as an evaluator working within a firm that prioritizes capacity building and participatory processes, I feel I’m limited in the room I’m given to help facilitate meaningful evaluation. Specifically, the nature in which projects come into existence — often a requirement associated with supporting a program or intuitive — isn’t conducive for the intentional integration of data and evaluation (though it often feels this is the expectation of grantees and programming teams). The evaluation activities are often prescriptive and surface-level — meaning learning opportunities that could be returned to the community aren’t always achieved.
My reflective prompts are inspired by last month’s podcast guest Dawn Valentine, who spoke to the idea that if we’re not collecting data for the communities being served, we’re taking resources away from them. So, with that in mind, how could we…
- reimagine the relationship between funders and grantees?
- reimagine our relationship with funders? and,
- support the process of reimagining these relationships?
Watch for our podcast later this month with a guest who will reflect on these prompts. We would LOVE to hear your thoughts. Leave them here on the blog or tweet at us!
3 thoughts on “Can we be in right relationship with funders?”
I love the idea of constant and ongoing questioning of relationships with funding sources. In social justice / social service work, I have found it to be faced with a complicated interaction with professional evaluation’s evolution. After the 80s when Reagan diminished evaluation within public policy, and when the OBM at the same time developed systems of putting evaluation into the policy development stage, this led to many social service agencies that relied on grant funding to not use evaluators because the evaluation components were built into the grant requirements themselves.
One state funded grant I reported on when I was working in WV was through the Grants to Encourage Arrest (GTEA, a part of the Violence Against Women Act), and there were several reports I had to work on to report various activities on a monthly and quarterly basis as well as gather statistics and qualitative data along the way. Essentially, it put me in a position to be doing my own program evaluation as embedded in the grant instructions.
So I think this means that, in part, evaluators need to be increasingly involved in public policy development and work directly with politicians and government agencies to be able to have influence over more humanistic and influential evolution of data as opposed to sitting back and getting crumbs from agencies that hire external evaluators for various reasons. Government grants have in some cases worked to eliminate additional costs of professional evaluators, but I am unclear of how such components are developed at a higher level. Those are the questions I am interested in investigating, as well as how gatekeeping works both within the professional dynamics of being an evaluator, but also within the greater commissioners and funding sources who might be involved in deciding when and how evaluation is conducted.
Your post really resonates with a blog post that one of our guests from last year, Carolyn Camman, just wrote a couple days ago. Carolyn shared their belief that evaluation is for everyone. They specifically noted: “What would it change about our work if we entered it with the fundamental belief that evaluation is a collective, communal act? That it’s not enough to circulate reports and products after the fact, but that the process, the evaluative act itself, belongs to and depends on a community of people invested in a change and a state of being in the world? That this is not a niche form of evaluation appropriate to special circumstances but reflective of a worldview and a belief that we deserve to live in systems that are arranged to respect our agency and our interdependence.”
I think being in right relationship with funders will mean having a voice to speak truth to power in these issues, being at the table as we make decisions about how people receive grant funding, and overall communicate the value of evaluative thinking and reflective practice at the policy level. There is much work to do, and we need evaluators to have a seat at the table. I think that is hard when what we (some of us) want is real change. And to take the mirror to our own practices in our government sectors. Active, loud, non-siloed evaluators that can communicate effectively and assert their opinions outside of our niche of evaluation practice are needed.
Do the proverbial they even want us at the table? And when we think of the American system as steeped in individualism (as Carolyn points to as well in their post), we need to really be prepared to argue for the value and power of community. The fact that everybody wins when we truly collaborate and work things out as a community. Being extractive, prescriptive, and surface-level in our evaluation doesn’t get us to the reflective practice we need to move our world forward for the better.
Here’s Carolyn’s blog post: http://www.camman-evaluation.com/blog/2021/6/20/evaluation-is-for-everyone