Check your privilege: Holding the purse strings can cloud awareness

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The Kresge Foundation - Freshlo Teaching Case

By: Steven LaFrance, Founder and CEO at Learning for Action

Brief background of project

FreshLo is an innovative initiative that integrates efforts at the intersection of food systems, health, creative placemaking, cultural healing, and economic development to increase equity in health, economic opportunity, and cultural identity among disenfranchised communities in urban settings. The evaluation of FreshLo has an ambitious set of goals to assess both implementation and progress towards outcomes across the four pillars of the initiative, surface site-level and cross-site learnings, and inform how a national funder can best support work at the local community level. The evaluation is using a mixed-methods design including qualitative methods (observation, interviews, etc.) and quantitative methods (indicator data collection) and multi-media methods (PhotoVoice, video, journey scrolls, etc.).

Status of project as of writing

We are one year into the evaluation at this time. We have completed one round of indicator data collection and one round of community visits, in addition to having established the foundation for the evaluation with definitions, frameworks, data collection guides, etc.

How Learning for action is making the case for EE within their organization

Equity is a core value of Learning for Action; since our start, our work has focused on achieving greater equity and justice in disinvested communities using the tools of evaluation and strategy to increase impact. We also endeavor to do as we preach: learn through experience and data about how we can do our work more effectively, thus contributing to greater equity and justice. The FreshLo evaluation provides the perfect opportunity for engaging the principles of equitable evaluation in a learning space: We are comfortable with all of the partners, and trust that the learning from the experience will be used for productive, and not punitive, purposes.

WHICH EE PRINCiple helped make the case for ee

The first principle of EE—that evaluation and evaluative work should be in the service of learning—is the anchor point for us, driving our commitment to the EE movement. Additionally, we are powerfully motivated by the principle that evaluative work should be designed and implemented commensurate with the values underlying the work.

which orthodoxies learning for action can (or should) push against to advance ee

I feel our work can primarily push against the following orthodoxies: evaluators should be selected based on credentials that reflect traditional notions of expertise; evaluators are the experts and final arbiters; credible evidence comes from quantitative data and experimental research; evaluators are objective; and evaluation funding primarily goes to data collection, analysis, and reporting. I am less confident that we will be able to shift fundamental issues such as “the foundation defines what success looks like.” The system is not set up to make this likely at all. Moreover, in our experience, even when foundations say they want folks on the ground to define success, when the work gets started, foundation mindsets shift back to default modes of thinking, which is their own definition of success, regardless of whether communities have been engaged in defining success in the framing of an evaluative effort.

Insights, considerations or cautions you have for the eei audience

A primary (though not entirely novel) insight we have for foundations and consultants alike is: Check your privilege. As evaluation consultants, brought in as the so-called experts, it’s very easy to lose sight of the privilege that comes with the role, let alone personal privilege we may enjoy as a function of our demographics or socioeconomic status. And among foundation staff, even those who are most progressive and whose backgrounds reflect those of affected communities, it’s remarkable how the fact of holding the purse strings clouds awareness of the inherent privilege that comes with that dynamic. We all need to up our game in terms of checking our privilege when working in severely under-resourced, disinvested, and systematically oppressed communities.