Funders' predispositions about research, communities, their own commitments to justice, fairness and inclusion matter. More than ever, grantmakers are tackling issues of equity as a defining issue of our time.

In assessing their role, grantmakers are increasingly willing to evaluate their internal processes, policies, and commitments and revise these to balance the range of their investments toward greater equity and inclusion.

Here we provide articles, tools, and examples about ways funders have taken up assessments of internal processes.

Equity Audit Tools

Racial Equity Toolkit: 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.

Grantmakers in the Arts Racial Equity RFP: This is an example RFP for a racial equity audit. Such audits start from the premise that whoever does the science affects the questions being asked, the methods chosen, and the patterns observed.

Learning from the Field

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation RFI Summary Memo

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."

RFP Internal Review

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation recently undertook a review and revision of their RFP language. In that process, they proposed and added a question asking applicants to detail their capacity to undertake an investigation focused on equity. The elements of the new question included:

  • Background and relevant life experience and researcher/research team positionality;

  • The critical approach to navigating the socio-political and historical context of the community in which research is to 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 article on "Race, Culture, and Researcher Positionality: Working Through Dangers Seen, Unseen, and Unforeseen" (2007).

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

Understanding 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 balance of applications and successful grantees, the Foundation staff worked with the Collaborative staff to retool, conducting an internal review with an eye toward how they could change their way of doing research funding so that white researchers weren’t overrepresented among grant awardees. This process led to hard thinking about the composition, skill set, knowledge and positionality of the research teams that apply and are successfully funded.

Rich Milner’s framework guide researchers through a process of racial and cultural awareness and 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 question change focused on the capacity of key partners to undertake an investigation focused on equity including such items as: relevant life and professional experience 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 work fits in line with the greater diversity, equity and inclusion work that the Nellie Mae Foundation has undertaken. The aim is to change the face of participation across the research process and advance research that engages communities in culturally responsive ways around meaningful change.