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AEA 2019: Leaders’ Influence in Evaluation Capacity Building: A Framework and Strategies for Cultivating Commitment and Action 

11-22-2019 12:37

Session Abstract: 

Amid a growing commitment to an outcomes focus, foundations are increasingly adding evaluation functions to build their capacity to collect and learn from data and evidence. Existing frameworks for evaluation capacity building (ECB) highlight the critical role that internal leaders play in the ECB process: they can bolster efforts, bring them to a halt, or even cause a backslide in an organization’s evaluation capacity. However, we do not have a clear view of how leaders influence ECB or of what they can do to cultivate ECB commitment and support among staff and other leaders. This panel session will share a new framework for understanding ECB leadership, with concrete examples and strategies from evaluation directors at the Kaufman and Barr Foundations. Participants will walk away with actionable ideas for how they can work with evaluation and program directors, CEOs, and board members to increase organizational capacity to do and use evaluation.

Abstract 1: Leaders’ Influence in Evaluation Capacity Building: A Practice Framework and Theory of Change

The first part of our session will describe the ECB Leadership Theory of Change (ToC), a framework that evaluators can use to think more deeply about their ECB strategies. The ToC articulates how leaders such as evaluation and program directors, board members, and CEOs can support their organizations in learning about and making changes in evaluation. Leaders, for instance, may wish to achieve a certain level of evaluation knowledge, skills, and attitudes in staff or build the organization’s evaluation structures and processes. In order to progress these goals, according to our ToC, leaders need to collaborate with each other and influence staff’s commitment to and participation in ECB. Internal and external evaluator participants will walk away with ideas of what leaders can do to enable ECB as well as the mechanisms through which leaders can help progress evaluation changes.

Abstract 2: Building Evaluation Capacity at the Kauffman Foundation amid Organizational Transition

The Kaufman Foundation’s spark for ECB arose from the strategic philanthropy movement. The organization underwent a strategic planning process and decided to incorporate an evaluation function that would gather rigorous evidence to support programmatic decisions. The CEO and board created the position and hired an evaluation director, who subsequently began building the organization’s capacity for learning and evaluation. He began by developing structures and processes to create and collect evidence and building staff knowledge and skills to access and use data. These early steps came amid a number of significant organizational transitions, including increases in staffing, a new grants management system, and shifts in funding strategies. The evaluation director will share his ECB approach with a specific focus on how he aligned other leaders within the foundation to the ECB approach, what role the CEO and board played, and the opportunities and challenges that organizational changes created for ECB.

Abstract 3: Building Organizational, Staff, and Board Evaluation Capacity at the Barr Foundation

New senior leadership and deepened engagement in more complex work at the Barr Foundation triggered the foundation’s interest in ECB. Although the organization had evaluation staff in the past, the president, vice president, and trustees wanted to highlight evaluation and learning’s importance by bringing in an evaluator at the director level. The evaluation director aimed to operationalize the senior leadership’s vision for learning and evaluation and developed an approach to do so at the strategy, initiative, and grant levels. She strategically aligned her ECB approach with the organization's values. The evaluation director will discuss this approach, her insights about the CEO and VP’s role in ECB, and how she built board and staff capacity for learning and evaluation.

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