Traditional views of evaluation have limits and don't always reflect a full and accurate picture

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Missouri Foundation for Health - Institutional Strategy

By: Kristy Klein Davis, VP of Strategy and Learning & Sarah Smith, Learning Officer at Missouri Foundation for Health

Brief background of project

MFH’s Strategy & Learning area is responsible for guiding the organization’s strategic planning, learning, evaluation, and research processes and projects. Within that work we continue to seek ways to operationalize and bring intentionality around the Foundation’s Core Values of commitment, equity, humility, and integrity. Bringing EE to the mix was a natural step.

Status of project as of writing

We are actively identifying entry points across our different bodies of work to bring in the EE principles. Specific entry points have ranged from developing RFPs that reflect EE principles, to getting a system in place for a set of grantees and Foundation staff to act as co-designers and sense makers of evaluation findings. We are also actively bringing the EE principles into all proposal review and strategic planning conversations—raising questions and helping staff think through how projects/decisions/actions reflect EE principles.    

How Missouri Foundation for Health is making the case for EE within their organization

Since our Strategy & Learning department was formed in 2015 we have never been a traditional foundation evaluation area. Our view of what evaluation could and should look like was a bit different, with greater focus on the lived experiences of the people and communities our work intends to serve and more latitude in what we consider evaluative activities and data. While our team had great confidence in what we were doing, it was sometimes challenging to help other stakeholders see why we approached things the way we did. In 2016 our organization formally adopted equity as a value, and EE gave us a framework and a way to demonstrate that our approach was not only valid but also in alignment with our values. A win-win!

WHICH EE PRINCiple helped make the case for ee

I think the third principle around participant ownership has been the most useful for us organizationally. The opportunity to question and challenge traditional notions of who this work is for and, based on that answer to that question, what questions that evaluative product should aim to answer, what would be considered valid data, etc. I think people had a pretty traditional view of evaluation which held quantitative analysis conducted by academic evaluators up as the gold standard. We have been able to use this principle to help people see that this type of analyses alone is extremely limiting and doesn’t always reflect a full and accurate picture.

which orthodoxies missouri foundation for health can (or should) push against to advance ee

Definitely the idea that evaluators are the experts and final arbiters. In different ways we have been giving our communities the explicit opportunity to review evaluation results before they are final—it is interesting how different evaluation firms find that practice!

Insights, considerations or cautions you have for the eei audience

We have found it valuable to share the EE Framework with staff outside the Strategy & Learning area and explicitly tie back to the framework in conversation. I think this has allowed us all to take a broader view of what equity means and how to make it actionable. Having staff outside our area, who can also champion the framework, has made it easier to seize entry points and challenge traditional thinking.