Increasingly, grantmakers are facilitating their own learning by convening in funder learning groups and acting within their institutions to promote the use and usefulness of evidence in policy and practice.
Guidance statements that lay out ethical and design principles for research activities are a start. But the most urgent challenge is ensuring that evidence production and use is fundamentally inclusive, particularly of those most affected by the issues that research evidence addresses. Equally important is ongoing learning to ground principles in concrete examples of use.
Here we provide articles, tools, and examples to support grantmakers in taking up these learning challenges.
Open letter to Facebook outlines steps to ensure that data are used as a positive tool for social change. These steps are instructive for all entities seeking to use data in pursuit of racial justice and equity.
Members of this funders group developed strategies for philanthropists to push on the boundaries that have held evidence in the hands of the few. Strategies include:
Facilitating equitable, representative, and meaningful engagement
Dismantling cultural, institutional, and methodological barriers
Addressing conditions that make evidence inaccessible
Maintaining a high priority focus on racial equity and inclusion
Making the case for how evidence serves the public good
This report outlines the elements of applying an equity lens to federal evaluation guidelines: rethinking rigor, relevance, and utility; addressing independence, transparency, and ethics; acknowledging the role evidence plays in evidence-based policymaking; and raising questions about how the evidence that shapes federal policy gets generated and used.
Self Study Resources for Grantmakers
Self-initiated learning can begin with one of the growing number of guides that help ground grantmaker practices in core principles of inclusion and equity.
This guide supports funders with specific language and examples. Guidance specific to funders starts on page 84. Charts communicate key approaches and concepts simply.
Sample considerations for funders include:
P. 85: RFP Processes and Grantee Support
Funders should consider the following processes:
Changing the research questions you are willing to fund.
Issuing RFPs for research differently or guide and evaluate your evaluators differently.
Engaging with board and staff on internal processes and biases, especially relating to how you use data.
Interrogating t numbers and stories you lift up, and use different framing in what you publish.
P. 89: Diversify Methods that Receive Support
Funders can prompt discussion of possible approaches and methods:
What ongoing benefits could the community organization see after the research ends?
Can you connect the community organization to another organization that has gone through the type of research being considered?
P. 93: Revise budgets and incentives
Funders can ask whether budgets and timelines support and create incentives for:
Building relationships and trust?
Developing data tools with community participation?
Researchers and the community organization interpret the data together?
We need to do a much better job of naming the belief systems which our work privileges, whose knowledge matters most, and why, at the end of the day, we do this work at all.
- Reflection on the 2018 American Evaluation Association National Conference, from Equitable Evaluation Initiative
Balancing the Portfolio: From Self-Facilitated Learning to Funding Strategies
Most grantmakers acknowledge that the vast majority of research grant funding is awarded to white scholars. Many funders have pursued careers in philanthropy to address such imbalances. But tacit understanding cannot replace a systematic review of grantmaking activities and priorities. The William T. Grant Foundation's internal audit of their grantmaking investments demonstrated what they already knew -- researchers of color, often not connected into more privileged networks, were starkly underrepresented.
This internal knowledge presented an opportunity for self-reflective institutional learning. That institutional learning bore fruit in several areas of the foundation's work: adopting routine data collection on the racial background of their grantee applicant pool; rethinking the racial composition of reviewers and recruiting more reviewers of color; expanding technical assistance supports to promising applicants of color; engaging in intentional outreach strategies to publicize funding opportunities to networks that reach academics of color; making grants to strengthen the pipeline of young scholars of color; and reviewing internal foundation processes to ensure they do not perpetuate inequalities in the grantee portfolio. These efforts have led to an expanded mentoring program praised by grantees and others in the field; a demonstrable increase in the funding rate for PIs of color; and the allocation of more grant dollars to pipeline activities to support scholars of color.
Philanthropists' self-initiated learning can be tremendously productive when it shows up in revised and improved processes including the RFP process; pre-application engagement and technical assistance; the content and composition of grantee convenings; the nature of grantmakers' communications; and the increased dedication of resources to researchers and communities from underrepresented backgrounds and those that bring new perspectives and methodologies. Vivian Tseng, Senior Vice President, discussed the importance of institutional learning for funders: "What we learned as a foundation has informed many of our initiatives. For example, we got into research-practice partnerships because stakeholders are being left out of the process of defining the research agendas that are supposed to benefit them. Our learnings have also informed our rapid response grants, work on democratizing evidence, and our critical theory lens on understanding the use of research. We are not done though, and we are committed to continuing to learn and improve."