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Equity As An Afterthought

This is Part Three of our five-part series titled, “Equity and Evaluation: Models of How Equity Can and Does Impact Evaluation.” Read Part One: Equity As A Leading Principle and Part Two: Equity As A Capacity. The subsequent two parts will be released over the next month (updated March 11, 2019).

Scenario Three

Equity as an afterthought – How does an evaluator focus on equity when it has been added as a new outcome years after an initiative has been in place?

The Situation

TCC served as the external formative evaluator for a multi-year, multi-state initiative undertaken by a foundation known as a proponent of equity work. The initiative did not explicitly mention equity as a leading value, but added it as an area of emphasis later on. Support staff also did not bring significant expertise in equity issues to the table and many of the initiative actors did not have relevant experience in utilizing an equity lens. The mandate was issued after grant funding was awarded and work plans were approved; therefore, very few resources were allocated to equity-related work. Furthermore, most grantees that the initiative supported were very homogeneous compared to their overall field.

The Evaluator’s Role

TCC was tasked with assessing grantees’ progress against the initiative’s key components, one of which was to address racial and ethnic disparities in the grantees’ field. In some instances, we provided the first opportunity for grantees to discuss their challenges and concerns with adding an equity lens.

What We Did Well

When engaging grantees on their equity work—either through formal interviews or informal conversations—we acknowledged the lack of resources allocated for the work. Grantees were struggling to incorporate an equity lens without funding and with limited technical assistance, and we made sure to acknowledge the resource challenge. We even framed questions in a way to make grantees more open and less defensive, such as, “We know that this was added on to your grant after the fact—given limited resources, what have you been able to achieve?” This allowed for very frank and candid conversations, and allowed us to provide more honest feedback to the funder.

We also made sure to highlight best practices. In some instances, grantees had some good success despite their resource challenges, and we made sure to highlight  successes in the equity work in the same way that we assessed other grant deliverables. We also shared these stories directly with other grantees who were hungry for news of best practices in this area.

Where We Can Improve

While these types of conversations can be challenging, we would aim to engage our client in a more candid conversation about the positioning of equity work. It has been our experience that a haphazard approach can lead to more harm than good. If we face a similar situation moving forward, we will highlight some of our experiences with how an after-the-fact approach can be harmful, and how to incorporate equity with more intentionality.

We will also seek to balance a foundation’s overall reputation for leadership in equity with how individual program officers and staff highlight equity and buy into those values, which can vary a great deal in a foundation.

Lessons Learned
  • Even foundations with solid reputations around equity can struggle to apply an equity lens. Don’t assume that all program staff are well-versed in these concepts just because of their organization’s reputation.
  • People without much experience using an equity lens can be very defensive. Neutralizing the conversation can generate better data and build stronger rapport.
  • Sometimes it is unavoidable for an initiative to add an equity lens after it has begun, but this addition should always come with resources and thoughtful technical support.
Want to Learn More?

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