• Jara Dean-Coffey, MPH

Tension 2 - Building a Thing vs Moving a Body of Work

Originally published on equitableeval.org on July 10, 2020

 

In my last post, I wrote about Tension 1 – Being in Front vs Standing Behind as part of a series on five tensions that I/we are struggling with as the Equitable Evaluation Initiative unfolds. In this post, I want to explore the tension between Building a Thing vs Moving a Body of Work.


Tension 2: Building a Thing vs Moving a Body of Work


There are some realities of the capitalistic culture in which we live. There is a deeply held belief that more is, well, better. That perpetuity suggests stability and impact. In the philanthropic sector, this often translates into the establishment and maintenance of permanent vehicles necessary to establish credibility, secure resources, and to have sufficient reach. This dilemma is one not unfamiliar to nonprofits and efforts such as the Full Cost Project, Trust Based Philanthropy and voices such as Vu Lee and Cyndi Suarez continue to push us to not only be honest about and critical of existing norms but invite us to boldly step into new ways of being in and doing the work of service. For me the question is... How do we fight following the dollars and other people’s expectations and potentially become something we never desired to be?


When we started thinking about the role of equity in evaluation, we were an 18-month research project funded primarily by WKKF Kellogg with additional resources from Kresge, California Endowment, and California HealthCare Foundation. The primary purpose of that work was to explore and pose the question to the field: Now that we know, what do we want to do now? The Field responded (with funding from Ford and California Endowment): we get it and we want to shift. In 2019, we launched the Equitable Evaluation Initiative designed intentionally for a five-year window. We did this as we believe that for this transformation/evolution to take hold, it must live in the hands and hearts of those already embedded in the field.


We have been clear and consistent about this and yet the nature of philanthropy, the role of consultants, and the typical work of evaluators results in some common asks:

  • Can you come teach/train us?

  • Can you do this? How do we do this?

  • How are you going to scale?

  • How will you know you are successful?

  • We have answers to this one - using The Strong Field Framework benchmarks

  • What does sustainability look like?

So, how do we navigate?


Well, it is ever-changing and there is no single answer. But here is what we are learning:

  • When people are invited to the space of co-creating what EEI should be (for the remaining 3.5+ years) they are ready, willing and able.

  • There is a desire, a hunger even, to be in relationship with self and others in the work. This connection to humanity is both freeing and a bit anxiety-producing for some people.

  • We are increasingly asking others to step-up and talk about EEI (we move to the side or behind) serving as a platform for others.

  • We are redefining our relationships with Partners so that we can better make connections between and among those who have stepped into an innovation/makers’ space.

  • Being honest and humble about who we are, what we know, what we can do and what we need will continue to drive our communications and efforts.

TO OUR CURRENT INVESTMENT OR PRACTICE PARTNERS, IF THIS WORK IS ABOUT A FUNDAMENTAL SHIFT IN OUR BELIEF SYSTEMS, HOW MIGHT WE AND YOU BE OR DO DIFFERENT IN OUR PARTNERSHIP? WHAT ARE WAYS IN WHICH THE NATURE OF OUR RELATIONSHIP COULD ALSO REFLECT EQUITY IN BOTH MEANS AND ENDS?

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