Being principles-driven is clarifying and motivating

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PROJECT: Vancouver Foundation - Culture & Context Assessment

The development of a new youth focused initiative, LEVEL created an opportunity for the foundation to explore how EE might advance its goals and build upon the success and learnings of its previous youth focused initiatives.

You can read Trilby’s previous emerging learning here.

By: Trilby Smith, Director, Learning and Evaluation at Vancouver Foundation

With which EEI community do you identify?


What is the status of this project?

We now have grantees! And Youth Policy Program participants! Yikes! And Hooray! Real people and organizations to practice equitable evaluation work with. Nothing like real people to help the shift from the theoretical and planning stage to the action stage. We have shifted from developing learning questions and evaluation frameworks into developing orientation materials, evaluation tools, and our own organizational inquiry.

Now that you are deeper into your work, where are you gaining traction in advancing EE principles?

I see traction developing for all three principles. Being principles-driven is clarifying and motivating.  Principle 1 continues to guide the framing of everything we are doing. I said it last time and I’ll say it again; asking “how is that action advancing progress towards equity?” about EVERYTHING that we are doing is powerful, direct and critical. As a funder we are both trying to model equitable practice to the extent possible (recognizing and sharing our own limitations), as well as being transparent, vulnerable and willing to step into the unknown.

We will be delving more deeply into Principle 3 as we begin the process of sharing our approach with our grantees. We are planning to visit each grantee in person to have a conversation about our learning and evaluation approach, as well as theirs, and to understand more deeply the learning questions that they are holding in their projects. I know the work will shift again once we have these conversations, and this will be the first step in facilitating participant ownership of the evaluation.     

Why do you think that is?

I think that Principle 1 “Evaluation and evaluative work should be in service of equity” is the “first principle” of equitable evaluation. Once it is on the table, and people truly understand it and embrace it, I have been finding that other things fall into place. We are rolling out some exciting internal work to mirror the work that our grantees are doing, and to allow us to enter into an authentic learning partnership with them. I think the reason we have progressed this far with the internal inquiry is because of the inherent truth in Principle 1.  

What’s next? What do you need to consider to keep things moving?

In my last post I talked about asking for money to support this work. Now we’re asking for something equally if not more valuable - time. We’re asking for time from our own staff to explore racial equity as an organization, and we’re asking for the time of our grantees to share what they are learning. We need to consider an equitable approach to these requests for time, and how much time we ask for. While I might want to think about equitable evaluation all day (and I kind of do), that’s not the reality for most people, and we need to accommodate that. Questions we need to consider as we continue to move forward: What is a reasonable pace for this work? What is an equitable way to share learning? How do we share the power in this evaluation work?  



Trilby Smith is the Director of Learning and Evaluation at the Vancouver Foundation.