So What?

Making an Impact by Listening

April 12, 2019  • Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program

The ‘So What?’ guide highlights advice, events, and tips — mostly from the advocacy and evaluation worlds, selected by the Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program

In a freshly released report commissioned by Fund for Shared Insight, we investigate how US nonprofits and funders listen to and “meaningfully connect” with communities intended to benefit from advocacy and policy work. Shared Insight, a collaborative of 94 funders, wanted to know: What does it look like to meaningfully connect with communities? How do organizations authentically listen to marginalized communities whose voices are often unheard? How do power imbalances rooted in differences of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and class affect an organization’s ability to listen – and a community’s ability to be heard?

These are timely questions that funders, nonprofits, and evaluators alike are appropriately asking themselves. SSIR recently produced a series on the Power of Feedback, exploring how feedback and listening practices in diverse fields are improving strategies and services. Resource hubs like the Building Movement Project seek to help nonprofits learn how to listen to and engage with constituents in empowering ways. The Equitable Evaluation Initiative challenges us to consider how evaluation can be used to promote equity – and how our practices align (or not) with the value of equity.

Here are two of the findings from our report – just to whet your appetite:
  • “Meaningfully connecting” goes beyond “input” and “feedback.” In advocacy and policy contexts, the definition of “meaningfully connecting” becomes entwined with goals like social, racial, and economic justice, and even societal transformation. For many who are engaged in advocacy and policy work, building community voice and power, and putting decision-making in the hands of those who are most affected by those decisions, is both the definition of connecting and an embodiment of those goals.
  • Questions about how to listen to communities surfaced tensions around power sharing and who is (or is not) an expert. Funders’ and nonprofits’ internal culture, practices, and strategies need to embody a genuine commitment to valuing multiple forms of expertise and enabling diverse voices to be at the table where decisions are made.

Why did we highlight those two findings in particular? We admit it: we love it when we get to work on projects that prompt us to realize, Huh, that finding applies to how we do our work as evaluators – and it’s something we could do better. We hope you find the report similarly useful. Or at least enjoy hunting for the stray curse words buried within this mighty tome.

So What?
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December 6, 2018 • Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program