Home > NewsRelease > CD TIG Week: Using Evaluation to Guide Foundations on Community Development By Douglas Easterling
CD TIG Week: Using Evaluation to Guide Foundations on Community Development By Douglas Easterling
American Evaluation Association (AEA) American Evaluation Association (AEA)
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Washington , DC
Tuesday, August 13, 2019

I’m Doug Easterling, Ph.D, a faculty member at Wake Forest School of Medicine. For the past 27 years I’ve been immersed in and fascinated by the work that foundations do to promote community-building and community-based problem-solving. I was the Director of Research and Evaluation at The Colorado Trust when the foundation experimented with approaches like the Colorado Healthy Communities Initiative and have served as an external evaluator or strategy advisor to a dozen foundations doing community-based initiatives.
The more I see and hear, the more that I am struck by the power that foundations have to disrupt the systems, practices, relationships, norms and assumptions that define communities. Disruption is sometimes a good thing – when it causes people to recognize new possibilities, take initiative, reach out to people who are “different,” find common ground, make institutions more inclusive, etc. But too often foundations disrupt communities in ways that foster struggles over for scarce resources, instill mistrust, and undermine residents’ ability to control their own destiny.
Evaluators can play a crucial role in guiding foundations to be smart and responsible with their community-based initiatives. They listen to community members and bring their observations and wisdom back to the foundation, along with recommendations for maximizing benefit and minimizing harm. Perhaps even more valuably, evaluators can help set good strategy before an initiative is implemented. Whether the task at hand is a logic model, a theory of change or some other mapping exercise, an outside evaluator can ask hard questions that bring assumptions into view – so that they can be scrutinized before launching an ambitious, multi-million dollar community intervention.
Two of the most important assumptions to clarify in this mapping work involve: 1) how things will get better in the community under the initiative, and 2) how the foundation’s contributions will support this change process.
Rad Resource: In evaluating the Clinton Foundation’s Community Health Transformation (CHT) model, my colleagues and I at the Wake Forest Strategic Philanthropy Research Group  developed a taxonomy of the different roles that a foundation can play in advancing community-based efforts to improve health. To date, we have identified four possible roles:
  • Driver – the foundation identifies a community need, finds an opportunity, and provides funding and other resources to local organizations to take advantage of that opportunity.
  • Supporter – the foundation provides resources to programs designed by community members, without attempting to influence them.
  • Enhancer – rather than passively supporting locally designed programs, the foundation also brings resources and expertise to increase their effectiveness or to expand their scale or scope.
  • Activator/Facilitator– the foundation encourages and supports community members in moving ideas and plans into effective action.
This taxonomy proved valuable to the Clinton Foundation in conveying the effect they had in their communities, as well as in clarifying the CHT program model. We have also used the taxonomy with other foundations as a tool for both clarifying their strategy and focusing the evaluation. Foundation staff are sometimes surprised to learn what they doing, which I think is a good thing.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Community Development TIG Week with our colleagues in the Community Development Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our CD TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

About AEA

The American Evaluation Association is an international professional association and the largest in its field. Evaluation involves assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programs, policies, personnel, products and organizations to improve their effectiveness. AEA’s mission is to improve evaluation practices and methods worldwide, to increase evaluation use, promote evaluation as a profession and support the contribution of evaluation to the generation of theory and knowledge about effective human action. For more information about AEA, visit www.eval.org.

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