News & UpdatesJanuary 23, 2012-Learning, Q+A
Are we achieving social change? What are we learning from our activities? And how are we making an impact?
These three questions are among the hardest for philanthropic organizations like ours to answer. At Humanity United, Associate Director of Research Meredith Blair is charged with guiding the team to understanding how we can best answer these questions for ourselves:
- You lead monitoring, evaluation, and learning. What does that mean at Humanity United?
We strive to continuously improve the effectiveness of our work by learning from our own activities and those of our grantees. A large part of that is working with our grantees to clarify their activities, assumptions, and expected outcomes as well as a plan for tracking progress on results It’s an important step in the grant-making process, and I appreciate that our grantees work with us closely to make the exercise valuable.
- How do you tackle that work?
We designed Planning, Assessment, and Learning Guidelines in 2009. These guidelines help our grantees think through intended outcomes from our grants, and prioritize which data will be most useful for them to assess progress and implement course corrections throughout the grant cycle. One component of the guidelines, called the Outcomes Planning Worksheet, is designed to facilitate this discussion. In some cases, we also provide support for third-party evaluation.
- After a couple years in effect, how has that process helped to inform Humanity United?
Most significantly, data collected through the Guidelines process has inspired the development of our inaugural Performance Report. In addition to sharing the information typically found in an annual report, we attempted to highlight the results of our grantees and our foundation-led projects. This report is a tremendous milestone for Humanity United to publicly share our impact, and is something we hope to build upon annually.
- How is Humanity United’s approach to learning evolving?
There are a couple projects that I’d point to, beginning with the 2011 Performance Report that I just mentioned. Another example is a more internally focused project. As a result of grantee feedback we received this year, and our own desire to capture better data, we are working to refine our grant-making processes to include more explicit explanation of our grant-making strategies and improve our internal systems and processes for gathering impact information.
- You contribute to several human rights-based and foundation evaluator networks. What are some emerging trends that you’re excited about?
The thing I’m most excited about isn’t a trend but a growing body of work around how to most appropriately measure peacebuilding interventions. These efforts have largely been spearheaded by the United States Institute of Peace and the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s Peacebuilding Evaluation Project. For more information, visit: http://www.allianceforpeacebuilding.org/?workpep.
Meredith holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington’s Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs. When not thinking about all things evaluation, she enjoys hiking, cycling and learning to surf around the Bay Area.