Over more than 20 years of working with partners and community members to conduct evaluation, The Improve Group has learned many lessons. In recent years we have collected key learnings into what we call the “IG Way.” You might notice us refer to IG Way when we refer to phases like inception, when we listen deeply about project context and needs, or to common IG Way practices like an emerging findings meeting, when we share initial reflections on evaluation data.
One of our biggest lessons is to keep adapting as we learn—so the IG Way is often changing. When a staff member finds a certain practice useful and effective, they might suggest it as an addition to the IG Way. These practices are documented and are a constant reference throughout an evaluation.
Particularly when it comes to practices intended to promote equity, we have found it helpful to reflect on IG Way activities—and to critically evaluate and improve them. Over the next few months, we will share some reflections on each IG Way phase, including lessons learned and key ways we consider equity throughout a project. Keep coming back to this thread for updates!
Taking time to listen and learn: equity in the Inception Phase
In the Inception Phase, we take time at the beginning of an evaluation to understand a project from different perspectives; begin building relationships; and finalize a work plan. What does equity look like at this point? A lot of listening and learning, to understand the context in which an evaluation is taking place, how client and community members’ lived experience can guide and inform our work, and where our evaluation expertise fits. We work to:
- Learn about the context and history of a community and their experience with the issues at hand.
- Continually learn, reflect, and be iterative to be responsive to what we are learning.
- Name and draw out assumptions and oppressive language/beliefs. For example, in our work with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, we are working to shift from using language based in historical institutional care to more person-centered terms that aren’t stigmatizing (like referring to people receiving services as “people” rather than “clients”).
- Scope the work to focus on important, real change, being clear about possibilities and limitations within the available budget.
- Frame issues, programs, and policies with a system lens, such as reporting what a city needs to do to better support people, rather than what people are lacking, in summarizing a community strengths and needs assessment.
- Identify assumptions about root causes in a program’s theory and framing.
- Plan to use mixed-methods, culturally appropriate, trauma-informed, participatory methods. For example, in conducting reference interviews for Bush Fellowship applicants, we asked references to define what leadership looks like in the candidate’s community so as not to reinforce a mainstream, traditional definition of leadership.
- Use asset-based framing.
- Ensure the evaluation purpose, choice of methods, and interpretation of findings are informed by the affected community.
- Include a focus on equity in evaluation questions, such as asking explicitly who is not benefiting who should benefit.