As grantmakers tackle equity issues, they are increasingly willing to evaluate their internal processes, policies, and commitments and to revise these to balance their portfolio of investments toward greater equity and inclusion.
Here are articles, tools, and examples to help funders assess their internal processes and practices.
The Nellie Mae Education Foundation recently undertook a review and revision of their RFP language. In that process, they added questions asking applicants to detail their capacity to undertake an investigation focused on equity. These questions encompassed::
Researcher’s background, relevant life experience, and positionality;
The critical approach to navigating the socio-political and historical context of of the community in which the research would occur;
The role of race, racism, and oppression in the community context and plan for addressing those elements;
Evidence of addressing such issues in the publication record.
This question was aimed at shifting the mix of applicants and focus of applications, and was crafted from considerations raised in Richard Milner's (2007) article on Race, Culture, and Researcher Positionality: Working Through Dangers Seen, Unseen, and Unforeseen.
Five questions frame the task of operationalizing equity for organizations that hold resources that communities need. This Government Alliance toolkit outlines these questions on page 6 and provides self-paced worksheets to guide institutional teams through: evaluating policies and practices; assessing engagement; determining disparate impact; and implementing revised practices and policies.
Collecting data is about more than just numbers. Surveys and evaluations can either unintentionally perpetuate bias and harmful stereotypes, or promote inclusion and equity. Rethinking data collection through a diversity, equity and inclusion lens is a critical undertaking for values-driven organizations, but few resources exist to guide this process. The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation has published "More Than Numbers" as a first step toward filling this gap in the field. This guide can be used by funders to collect data to assess themselves in terms of equity and inclusion.
This memo summarizes the Foundation’s process of requesting information from grantees and networks that have engaged in efforts to improve outcomes for Black, Latino, and low-income students. Key lessons informed a recent RFP.
Examples of these lessons include:
P. 2: Involving partners early:
"We heard clearly that involving schools early in the process of forming a network is crucial to the network’s success. Networks succeed when they deeply involve school teams..."
P. 2: Collaboration with local partners:
“A key function of networks for school improvement will be to provide the space for schools to leverage the strengths unique to their local communities, and we were humbled and excited by the great work already being done in this area.”
P. 4-5: Equity:
"Few RFI respondents focused on a problem of practice that would improve outcomes specifically for Black, Latino, and low-income students. Given our foundation’s commitment to improving outcomes for those students, we expect that RFP responses will demonstrate a clear commitment to equity. Ultimately, we hope that Intermediaries facilitate NSIs to examine traditional decision-making structures to address structural biases that can disadvantage Black, Latino and low-income students."
When we say low literacy drives high incarceration rates, we locate evidence in the wrong place. What if we acknowledged that the same things that drive low literacy drive high incarceration? It is in this context that our predispositions about research matter.
-David Kirkland, NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools
The Importance of Positionality for Democratizing Research
The Nellie Mae Education Foundation funds the Student-Centered Learning, a first-of-its-kind research collaborative to build, define, apply and share a robust evidence base for student-centered learning. With such an exciting vision, the collaborative is positioned to leverage knowledge about student-centered learning to affect meaningful change at scale. However, the proposals they received back in their inaugural RFP did not represent the variety, diversity or breadth of partnerships and partners that were representative of the field.
Dissatisfied with the lack of diversity in applications and successful grantees, the Foundation staff worked with the Collaborative staff to conduct an internal review to guide changes in their research funding so that White researchers were not overrepresented among grant awardees. This process led to hard thinking about the composition, skill set, knowledge, and positionality of the research teams that applied and were successfully funded.
Rich Milner’s framework guided researchers through a process of racial and cultural awareness and increased understanding of their own positionality as they conduct education research. Inspired by the framework, the collaborative revised its RFP questions to draw research team members’ attention to their own racialized and cultural systems of coming to know, knowing, and experiencing the world.
The changes assessed the capacity of key partners to undertake an investigation focused on equity and included such items as: relevant life, professional experiences, and publications; an understanding of the socio-political and historical contexts of the communities in which their research takes place; and the racial and cultural competencies needed to address issues that arise.
This internal assessment and revision changed the face of participation across the research process and advanced research that engages communities in culturally responsive ways around meaningful change.