Holding up and shifting power to other ways of knowing is the hard and exciting work

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Vancouver Foundation - Culture & Context Assessment

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

Brief background of project

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.

Status of project as of writing

The LEVEL initiative is reviewing grant applications and the first grants will be given in December. Meanwhile, we are creating the learning and evaluation framework for LEVEL, including the development of learning and evaluation questions, infrastructure, and budget. We began with principles and have been collecting questions held by staff across the organization. The next step will be to refine the questions and put them on a timeline of the initiative, knowing that we can’t answer all questions now or even on the same timeline.

How Vancouver Foundation is making the case for EE within their organization

I would say for us it’s a combination of explicitly making the case and just getting started (ask for forgiveness later). The LEVEL initiative is focused on racial equity so equitable evaluation is an obvious fit. Additionally, having worked on deep youth engagement initiatives for the past five years, the learning and evaluation team has experience with diverse approaches to evaluation, and we were looking to bolster our practice in the area of evaluation and racial equity. Finally, I would share that case-making has been most present as we do budget planning. This forced us to articulate the “why” behind the funds we were asking for to support this work locally.  

WHICH EE PRINCiple helped make the case for ee

Principles 1 and 3 have the most resonance in terms of making the case here at Vancouver Foundation. To me, naming the evaluation as in service to equity has been the most meaningful as it shines a bright light on every aspect of the evaluation, and asks “how is that action advancing progress towards equity?” It demands rigour each step of the way. Additionally, principle 3 really helps to centre the evaluation not on the evaluator, but on the people who are doing the work and benefiting from the work.

which orthodoxies Vancouver foundation can (or should) push against to advance ee

Orthodoxy: “Evaluators should be selected based on credentials that reflect traditional notions of expertise.”

To me, this work is about shifting power. If the foundation evaluation staff hold all of the power in the evaluation because they hold expertise in evaluation, then the evaluation is not equitable. Figuring out how to hold up and shift power to other ways of knowing, other forms of expertise (or even getting rid of the word expertise all together), that is the hard and exciting work.

Insights, considerations or cautions you have for the eei audience

Right now my insights are only for philanthropies, since we haven’t taken this work outside our walls yet. The rubber meets the road when you need to build a budget for this work. If you want to pay people to do equitable evaluation work who are outside of the traditionally recognized field of evaluation, for example, be prepared to make the case for why that is important.