Philanthropy

Philanthropy



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Session Title: Dominoes or Pick-Up Sticks? Philanthropy's Struggle to Acknowledge Complex Systems
Panel Session 878 to be held in Panzacola Section F4 on Saturday, Nov 14, 3:30 PM to 5:00 PM
Sponsored by the Systems in Evaluation TIG and the Non-profit and Foundations Evaluation TIG
Chair(s):
Michael Patton, Union Institute, mqpatton@prodigy.net
Discussant(s):
Gale Berkowitz, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, gberkowitz@packard.org
Abstract: Enticed by the "what works" movement and seduced by manufacturing's process standardization, foundations and nonprofits have embraced planning and evaluation tools that assume a direct and linear relationship between their activities and their desired outcomes, just like knocking over one domino and watching the entire string tumble in sequence. As they deconstruct social change into bite-size projects, foundations have come to judge success by grantees' fidelity to process and their compliance with near-term implementation requirements. In fact, social change plays out in real life more like a game of pick-up sticks than knocking over a row of dominoes. Even more troubling is that in real life players do not even take turns. Everyone is moving sticks at the same time. In this volatile setting of complex systems, foundations must focus less on compliance-oriented variables and devote more energy to continual feedback, adaptive behaviors and real-time adjustments. In this session, foundation executives and foundation consultants will discuss reasons and remedies for the current state of practice.
Philanthropy, Accountability and Social Change
John Bare, Arthur M Blank Family Foundation, jbare@ambfo.com
The accountability movement is diminishing philanthropy's appetite for investing in social change, as well as the nonprofit sector's ability to execute against a social-change agenda. The rewards promoted as part of the accountability movement favor compliance and rote behavior. An effect of the accountability movement is that organizations are substituting evidence of process standards for a display of value added to society. One reason is that the tools of the accountability movement are intended for a narrow, important function but are poorly suited to meet the needs social-change agendas. A second reason is the trend favoring certain types of evidence. This inhibits investment in which these types of evidence are unlikely to surface. As a remedy, philanthropy should adopt tools robust enough to be helpful within complex systems. Pursuit of a social-change agenda requires attention to risk analysis and a highly flexible nature that rewards continual adjustments.
Partnerships, Complexity, and Community Change
Teresa Behrens, The Foundation Review, behrenst@foundationreview.org
Understanding that the complex relationships within a community can contribute to, or inhibit, the success of community change efforts, many funders have turned to community partnerships to implement initiatives. In this presentation, Behrens reviews partnerships funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation over several years, discusses the role these partnerships play in the theory of change, and the evidence about their effectiveness. Have these partnerships really been effective? Does measuring the effectiveness of partnerships drive us further into the dark side of "evidence based practice"? Does requiring partnerships violate the mandate to "do no harm"?
Innovating Evaluation in Philanthropy
Victor Kuo, WestEd, vkuo@wested.org
Industry norms for evaluation in philanthropy barely exist; various approaches abound. Since the late 1990's, calls for evaluation in philanthropy have ignited a frenzy of activity. Theory driven approaches to evaluating complex social change efforts, dashboards and performance metrics, and grantee perception studies have been launched. Some foundations with strong beliefs in technology's hope are investing in data systems to provide regular feedback for short and long-term horizons. Some examples of how each approach has contributed to social change exist. This presentation will pose reflections on the past decade of evaluation in philanthropy from an evaluator who has served in the evaluation function of three foundations based on the West coast. The panelist will consider why innovative approaches to evaluation, including evaluation of complex systems, compete for attention. A key role of philanthropy in society is to innovate. Looking forward, evaluators can anticipate evaluation approaches to continue to be claimed as innovative and shared in new settings.
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