Sharing Our Stories Together to Address Inequities

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The equity learning club

Evaluation does not happen in a bubble; it is impacted by the social context around us. To do it well, it requires an understanding of the forces that shape our world, including structural racism and implicit bias. On the flip side, evaluation impacts social context, requiring us to recognize how our work perpetuates the forces that shape our world, including structural racism and implicit bias.

As part of our participation in the Equitable Evaluation Design Sessions (hosted by the Colorado Evaluation Network, sponsored by the Colorado Health Foundation and the Colorado Trust, and a project of the Equitable Evaluation Initiative), Vantage Evaluation took on two design challenges:

  1. In our evaluation work, how can we build personal awareness of inequities and examine their professional implications?

  2. How can we expand the definition of validity in evaluation used by nonprofits and foundations in our community?

In today’s blog post, we offer a summary of the first design challenge, where we created an Equity Learning Club. The full report is available on our website. Our hope in sharing our experiences is that others might find inspiration to engage in similar work, and those organizations will take what we did and improve upon it.

Our Equity Learning Club

We have to address our personal relationship with inequities AND the ways racism and equity impact our work. Without both, we cannot work effectively to support our clients and the community.

When we talk about equity, it is tempting to focus on the professional side alone — how can organizations work to dismantle inequities? However, organizations are just collections of individuals. We have to address both sides: our personal relationship with inequities, and the ways racism and equity impact our professional work. Without both, we cannot work effectively to support our clients and the community.

Our team decided to address this through a monthly Learning Club. Our goals were the following:

  1. Build personal awareness of inequities and the professional implications of inequities in evaluation.

  2. Identify small ways Vantage can shift our work to avoid perpetuating inequities.

  3. Test ways to use readings and conversations inside an evaluation firm to achieve goals one and two (contribute to the field).

We had three sessions that covered three topics:

  1. Exploring the privilege and bias of the dominant culture (2 hours);

  2. The intersection of race and evaluation (2 hours); and

  3. So, what can we do? (3 hours)

To prepare for the Learning Club, staff spent 90 minutes to two hours on assigned reading. They also spent a portion of that time filling out a reflection form on the process and on their mindset shifts. During each session, we spent the first 10-15 minutes together as a large group to review the purpose of the Learning Club, the ground rules for the conversations, any lingering questions or concerns from the previous section, and the goal of the current session.

Next, we split into two groups for the focused conversation. Team members stayed in the same small groups for the entirety of the Learning Club. As a team of nine, we were too large to have meaningful conversations about inequities as one group. We decided to keep the small groups the same for the entire time to give continuity the conversations. This also helped groups build understanding for the context each person brought to the table.

For the last session, we spent the first two hours with our small groups discussing how to adapt evaluation to combat inequities and develop proposed action items for Vantage. Then, we came together as a large group to share our proposed action items, vote on the action items we wanted to move forward with, and reflect on the experience.

How did it go?

Refinements

If we were to do the Learning Club again, we would alter the structure and reading slightly. If possible, we would add more sessions — one each on implicit bias and structural racism (rather than combined in one session), and two on action planning. Team members also suggested incorporating other types of materials, such as podcasts, movies, etc.

Successes

We were successful at facilitating the Learning Club internally, rather than contracting with an external facilitator/consultant. At Vantage, equity weaves clearly into our core values, so our existing culture and the dynamics of our team created an environment where this design challenge could succeed. If it were to be replicated elsewhere, it would need to be adapted to the culture and circumstances of that organization.

Though it was an exceptionally busy time, we had full participation from all team members and interns in this optional professional development, and all team members reported that it was a good use of their time. The team was excited about the action items we landed on (below), and are eager to continue this work.

Vantage Equity Action Items

Internally focused

Externally focused

Organizational Practices

  • Conduct Institutional Policy Review and implement recommendations
  • Implement company tipping policy
  • Develop a vendor policy and list of preferred vendors
  • Use of images in our branding
Team-Focused
  • Create equity module for new team members
  • Ongoing team-based equity conversations

  • Disseminate our learnings from this experiment in hopes that the field will build upon it
  • Create considerations for equity in the project process
  • Continue validity experimentation (stay tuned for next week’s Vantage Point blog post)

Now it’s your turn

We tried this at Vantage... now it’s your turn! Take what we did and our lessons learned, then adapt the Learning Club for your organization or group. Additionally, we have a lot more detail and lessons learned in the full report on our website. We’re happy to help you think through how you might adapt this Learning Club for your context!

Then, let us know how it went! What did you change? How did your team react? How did your sessions go? What next steps did you generate?

Don’t forget to connect with the Equitable Evaluation community or on social media using #EquitableEval.

 
 

Kindle Morell