Why are we preparing an equity statement?
Equity is important to The Improve Group’s mission. By focusing on equity, we are recognizing two things. First, that the work we do – evaluation, research, community engagement and planning – affects equity. With thoughtfulness and intention, that effect can be positive; without them, we run the risk of making inequities worse. Second, for organizations to have a positive social impact, they must recognize and contend with the obstacles in their way – including inequity.
Equity is also important to our stakeholders. We work in communities, on behalf of mission-focused organizations, and with a wide range of partners. Success, impact and quality of life for each of these stakeholders is impacted by inequity. By talking about equity, we hope to lean more deeply into trusting, strong and authentic relationships with these stakeholders that build a better world, and that we reinforce each other’s growth and learning toward equity.
What is The Improve Group’s commitment to equity?
The Improve Group is committed to being guided by equity in all of our work. We know that this requires thoughtfulness, attention and dedication. We also know that this work can be uncomfortable – that there will be days we will reflect on our actions and regret things we did. When that happens, we’ll take responsibility and learn from our mistakes. We want to see the communities in which we live and work be more equitable, and the people we love to thrive.
We’ve been learning about equity along the way, and each time we learn something new, it becomes more and more apparent that we have a lot left to learn. We will keep learning. We’ll be guided by our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion principles, our values, and the incredible work of others on this journey.
Who is inspiring and guiding us?
This summer, an evaluation listserv had an active and challenging conversation about who leads, and is acknowledged, for their contributions to equity and evaluation. We must recognize and acknowledge those who we are in conversation with and learning from on this journey. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, and we continue to welcome new ideas, the wisdom of the following have particularly influenced our work:
- Waapalaneexkweew (Dr. Nicole Bowman, Lunaape/Mohican) has spent years advancing scholarship and being a leader in Culturally Responsive Indigenous Evaluation. She has been a sister, friend, partner and wise teacher on our journey and has expanded our ideas in immeasurable ways. As an example, in a project we are co-leading, she has unveiled the underlying systems that are operating and our opportunities for changing them. Her teachings about the four doors through which evaluation is practiced, mentorship in knowing your origins, and creativity and commitment have deepened our practice immeasurably.
- Dr. Vidhya Shankar’s scholarship on the history and roots of evaluation and her analysis of the underlying structures. She has presented, published, and brought discourse to public discussions that have inspired our team. For example, in 2020 she and Carolina De La Rosa Mateo shared how systems and structures in evaluation have created feedback loops that continue to amplify white discourses on race. They demonstrated this by showing what happens to your data sources, analysis and recommendations when you stop asking the question, “Why are there so few evaluators of color?” and start asking, “Why is evaluation so white?” A local Community of Praxis is evolving to further intentional framing and reflection to evaluation's dominant narrative and subsequent boundaries and purpose.
- The Olmstead Quality of Life Advisory Group, which has been consistently committed to respecting and hearing the voices of people with disabilities when analyzing how Minnesota’s systems are working. The group has shared personal stories and experiences and interpreted data in new and powerful ways. They have bridged two worlds – years of experience working within our systems and reflective analysis of what that system really means to people with disabilities – and bring their whole selves to the work.
- The Government Alliance for Race Equity and Equity in the Center, which provide analysis and strategies for achieving race equity in the sectors in which we work (nonprofits, foundations, public sector, and mission-focused organizations more generally).
- Paul Elam and his work to bring an equity lens into evaluation practices. He shares his work through the Center for Culturally Responsive Engagement and with the field at multiple AEA conferences. The tools and strategies he has created are very practical with wide application for our field.
- Dr. Joi Lewis, and her warm companionship and work together in many ways over the years. Her work, and the work of other providers she trains to deliver healing justice, calls on us to be courageous and incorporate radical self-care (healing justice) while addressing, fighting, and transforming the underlying systems that work to inequitably benefit our communities.
- The unlimited wisdom shared by community members and partners in our work to date. They have reframed questions, contributed new perspectives about our practice, layered important insights into analysis and given us new ideas about how we can do this work. We are grateful for their gifts.
What have we learned and how might you see equity show up in our work?
The following are the building blocks that we’ve learned contribute to equity in our work.
- Honoring the expertise of communities. Community members’ words, actions and reflections are essential for understanding what is, imagining what could be, and determining the pathway between the two.
- Incorporating analyses of root causes, systems and structures through an equity lens. This means doing better homework about the history and context of the communities in which we work.
- Transforming evaluation questions so that learning starts from an equity perspective.
- Addressing power dynamics by mitigating risks and burdens with things like stipends, accommodations, and structural changes.
- Welcoming bigger teams with broader wisdom and expertise through partnerships and liaisons.
- Bringing in feedback loops for accountability, picking up on the direct and indirect feedback we get from our communities, partners and clients that tell us when we are on the right path and when we need to change.
- Some of these practices have parallels in our internal operations, created by and continuously improved on by our team. The way we operate as a business – from our employment practices to purchasing to our contracting practices – can all have an impact on equity in our community.
When you see we can do better, tell us
We are still learning, and our approaches will keep changing. We’ve fallen short in the past and are working to do better. When you see we can do better, tell us. You can submit feedback on our equity journey through our online comment form.
 The conversation responded to posts containing racist and misogynistic remarks; when these remarks continued, the listserv was ultimately disabled. See here for more context.
 Among Waapalaneexkweew’s many publications is one with Carolee Dodge-Francis that weaves academic scholarship with wisdom learned through traditional practices and a lifetime of experience: Culturally Responsive Indigenous Evaluation and Tribal Governments: Understanding the Relationship. NEW DIRECTIONS FOR EVALUATION, no. 159, Fall 2018
 See their publication here, which grew out of Dr. Shankar’s dissertation and other scolarship: