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Co-Designing Evaluation with Grantees
July 15, 2015

(Susan Zepeda is the president/CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.)

Susan New 1In philanthropy, we are increasingly lifting up equity as a value, and asking ourselves how to put this value into practice. At the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky one dimension of this is co-designing evaluation expectations in partnership with our grantees. We are not alone in this experiment in collaborative evaluation design.  In fact, last month, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) held a Learning Conference, to explore ways in which learning in partnership with others can lead to better results for philanthropy and for the communities we seek to serve.

Maddy Frey of Healthcare Georgia Foundation, and Maggie Jones of the Center for Community Health and Evaluation  joined me as part of a panel to share our experiences in co-designing evaluation with grantees, and we invited the crowded room of grantmakers to address some of the challenges of this approach through small group discussion. 

Creating shared goals and commitment takes trust, time and flexibility, but can be well worth the effort.

Jones began with a framework that moved from reasons to evaluate (describe, document, understand, guide decision-making, determine effectiveness) to the benefits of a participatory approach, to the tensions funders and grantees may experience in taking this more collaborative approach.  All of us noted that creating shared goals and commitment takes trust, time and flexibility, but can be well worth the effort.   The resulting increase in ownership and shared responsibility not only helps to assure results that are actually useful – and used – to participants, but also builds both grantmaker and grantee capacity for future evaluation design and sustained learning.  Further, the investment in listening to and learning about each other creates a foundation of mutual respect that can help all navigate power imbalances and rocky times.

During my segment of the presentation I dug into the way that this is a way of living the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky’s commitment to equity, asking the questions: how does this approach better confer agency, and strengthen communities?  I also spoke to the importance of having your board “on board.”  This theme was taken up in group discussion, with some expressing concern that their board members might view this interactive design approach as “less rigorous” than other options.  Other breakout discussions dug deeper on power dynamics in grantor-grantee collaboration; funder collaboration; using evaluation for continuous improvement; and building internal and external evaluation capacity.

The investment in listening to each other creates a foundation of mutual respect that can help all navigate power imbalances and rocky times.

Frey spoke of the investment Healthcare Georgia Foundation’s Board has made, creating the Georgia Evaluation Resource Center, offering tools to help nonprofit health organizations achieve better outcomes.  The Center works with grantees before, during and after the application process.  The candid two-way flow of information, with a focus on improving not proving, helps nonprofits grow their own evaluation capabilities while creating evaluation plans that are relevant and meaningful.

For more information contact:  Maddy Frey, MPH, Director of Evaluation, Healthcare Georgia Foundation; Maggie Jones, Manager of Evaluation Services, Center for Community Health and Evaluation, and Susan Zepeda, PhD, President/CEO, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky,

--Susan Zepeda


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