Kresge learning and evaluation celebrates 2-year anniversary, support of Equitable Evaluation highlight of 2017

This month The Kresge Foundation’s Strategic Learning, Research and Evaluation practice celebrates a two-year anniversary. Established in late 2015, Kresge’s learning and evaluation function has put the foundation on a path to growing its knowledge endowment – to draw from the full suite of philanthropic tools, including evaluation and thought leadership – to join conversations that advance the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. One way that Kresge learning and evaluation has sought to contribute to the wider sector is through its support of Equitable Evaluation (EE).

A project of the Luminare Group, Center for Evaluation Innovation and Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University, EE examines the role that evaluation plays in helping or hindering progress towards equity in philanthropy. As the number of foundations taking a position on equity grows, the sector needs to assess whether its existing evaluation approaches advance the principles and values that underlie equity-focused grantmaking.

The Equitable Evaluation project was started in 2016 by Jara Dean-Coffey, principal and founder of the Luminare Group, the Center for Evaluation Innovation and Teri Behrens at the Dorthy A. Johnson Center. The concept for the project stems from a paper that Dean-Coffey co-published in 2014 with Jill Casey and Leon D. Caldwell, “Raising the Bar – Integrating Cultural Competence and Equity: Equitable Evaluation.” The paper was based on their research with national foundations integrating diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into their work. Through the research, they realized that learning and evaluation were rarely if ever considered in the DEI work of foundations beyond the disaggregation of data. “We knew that the history of evaluation as a discipline as well as a foundation practice were influenced by definitions of knowledge, evidence and truth not consistent with current views of identity, culture and context. If the growing interest and shift towards addressing equity and inequality did not consider how and in what ways evaluation practices needed to evolve, we would find ourselves using a tool from another time and place that may even be doing harm,” explains Dean-Coffey. Out of this realization was born the Equitable Evaluation project.

Over the course of 2017, the Equitable Evaluation project produced a framing paper that reflects on current practices in philanthropic evaluation and provides concrete recommendations. The project team also hosted an inaugural roundtable on August 1, 2017 in Detroit with over 30 leading evaluators and foundation staff from across the country to discuss the principles and values of equitable evaluation, organizational capacity building in foundations for equitable evaluation and support for evaluators to practice equitable evaluation. Moving forward, the project aims to surface tools and resources to help foundations integrate equitable evaluation into their grantmaking.

"Kresge is a natural partner on efforts to advance equitable evaluation in philanthropy,” says Jme McLean, principal of Mesu Strategies and EE project team member. “The foundation has provided so much support to improve opportunities for low-income communities and communities of color.  Extending that equity lens into efforts around evaluation and learning will only deepen the impact,” she states. 

Chera Reid, director of strategic learning, research, and evaluation at Kresge, agrees. “Our goal is to bring an equity lens to our growing learning and evaluation practice so that evaluation can be a tool for advancing equity. EE supports our intent to deliver on our mission, which is about better outcomes for urban low-income people and communities of color,” Reid stresses.

Please stay tuned for more on this work and for other Kresge learning and evaluation developments that are coming in the new year.