Our advice is to get started, even if that means taking small steps first.

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Drew Jacobs, Officer, Strategy, Learning, and Evaluation;
Shani Worrell, Senior Officer, Strategy, Learning, and Evaluation;
Marcie Parkhurst, Deputy Director, Strategy and Learning

Brief Background of the Project and SLED at the Walton Family Foundation

The Strategy, Learning, and Evaluation Department (SLED) at the Walton Family Foundation supports careful planning, rigorous research, and systematic assessment in service of organizational learning, strategic adaptation, and philanthropic impact. Over the past 18 months, SLED has been working with the Equitable Evaluation Initiative to learn more about EE and to identify ways to better promote equity in our work.

Status of Project as of Writing

SLED recently committed to four priority actions to deepen our EE practice in 2019. These priorities focus on core SLED activities and are designed to help embed the principles of EE into our daily work.

  1. Reviewing grants (specifically performance measures) with an eye to equity.

  2. Highlighting findings that have equity implications in grant-level evaluations.

  3. Diversifying our pipeline of third-party research and evaluation partners. This includes engaging with more researchers of color as well as using different evaluation methodologies.

  4. Supporting program teams as they examine equity within their grant portfolios.

How SLED is Making the Case for EE

2018 was a big year for Foundation-wide work on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Not only was a Foundation-wide working group formed to create and implement a DEI plan, but some of our programs also initiated separate efforts. SLED is making the case for EE by identifying and sharing ways EE can support these Foundation and program efforts. This is particularly important given that each of our program areas (K12 Education, Home Region, and Environment) aims to serve historically underserved or at-risk populations in some manner. Equitable evaluation provides a way for us to better understand the impact of our investments on specific communities as well as to ensure that our evaluation practice is mindful of context and inclusive when appropriate.

Which EE Principle Helped Make the Case

Principle 2 was most resonant because it asks questions that SLED staff and program staff are keenly interested in:

  • To what extent are our efforts to increase equity really addressing the underlying drivers of inequity?

  • Are the underserved communities we are targeting truly the beneficiaries of these grants?

Which Orthodoxies SLED Can (or Should) Push Against to Advance EE

We are beginning our journey by pushing against two orthodoxies - “the foundation defines what success looks like” and “grantees and strategies are the evaluand, but not the foundation.” For the first orthodoxy, we have identified opportunities to involve grantees more intentionally throughout our evaluation process (e.g., developing evaluation questions, defining measures of success, reviewing findings). For the second orthodoxy we are beginning to examine the Foundation’s own grantmaking and contracting processes (e.g., is there a relationship between the dollars we grant and the race/ethnicity and gender of leaders of grantee organizations?).

Insights, Considerations or Cautions You Have for the EEI Audience

Our advice is to get started, even if that means taking small steps first. There is a lot to do, but significant changes take time. We plan to focus on some quicks wins in our own work in 2019, while simultaneously engaging with program staff, foundation leaders, and grantees to help them understand the shifts we are making and to lay the groundwork for more advanced EE work in the future.