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Jul 15, 2019 | Insights

The Value of Data and Evaluation in Building Effective Organizations

TSNE’s Learning and Evaluation department attended the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) 2019 Learning Conference in Seattle, Washington in May. We learned about the efforts that organizations across the sector were making at evaluating the impact of capacity building or organizational strengthening programs, and brought back tools such as “learning questions,” and measures of increased capacity from Social Sector Accelerator.

GEO brings grantmakers together to share and inspire more effective grantmaking practices that build better, stronger nonprofits. GEO considers learning and evaluation a core approach to effectiveness, and the conference gave our team the opportunity to learn about new practices through workshops and conversations with peers across the country.

Connecting Learning to Decision Making

During “Real Life Experiments in Shifting Systems to Support Learning,” panelists Irit Houvras, American Jewish World Service; Huilan Krenn, W.K. Kellogg Foundation; and Jane Reisman, Ph.D., shared insights from The Lab for Learning — a peer-based lab experience with 13 evaluation leaders from U.S.-based foundations. They explained how we can support learning habits and shift system levers. One of the habits was asking the “Now what?” question. This allows organizations to link learning to decision making. We often use the “What? So What? Now What?” framework at TSNE to understand how the data and insights collected from our programs like What’s Next: Leading a Thriving Transition and the Better Nonprofit Management Training Series can be used for learning and improvement.

The sector’s efforts to further an understanding of racial equity and how it can be used to build more effective organizations were also major themes throughout the conference. We listened to panelists and peers share how evaluators hold power within the field and how we can intentionally support and shift power to communities by being aware of how we ask our questions, and whether these questions will lead to solutions that our communities can use. I learned how to leverage storytelling alongside data to tell a powerful narrative representative of communities. Equity was also exemplified in other work presented during the conference, like at Groundswell Fund, an organization that funds and evaluates the work of grassroots organizations and supports them in building broader support.

Our continuous learning as a sector is critical for impactful work and the advancement of equity within our communities. We must use learning and evaluation as a tool to move through transitions and toward social change.

You can learn more about the work of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations here.

Cate Reynolds is the Learning and Evaluation Coordinator at TSNE.