Aspen Evaluation Breakfast Series

The Aspen Institute has over 60 years of experience facilitating dialogue on challenging public policy issues. Through our Aspen Evaluation Breakfast Series, APEP hosts convenings to highlight innovative experts who are shaping and redefining the fields of evaluation and advocacy. In the spirit of dialogue, our convenings feature a brief presentation that serves as a springboard for discussion with audience members – fueled of course by ample breakfast treats and caffeine.

Check out our upcoming and recent events and accompanying resources below. And to keep tabs on our upcoming breakfast events, sign up for our biweekly newsletter, So What?

Recent Events

Book Launch — Advocacy and Policy Change Evaluation: Theory and Practice

June 14, 2017, 5:30 – 7:30 pm: Advocacy and Policy Change Evaluation: Theory and Practice, published by Stanford University Press, is the first book-length treatment of the concepts, designs, methods, and tools needed to conduct effective advocacy and policy change evaluations. By integrating insights from different disciplines, the book provides a conceptual foundation for navigating advocacy tactics within today’s turbulent policy landscape; offers recommendations for developing appropriate evaluation designs and working with unique advocacy and policy change–oriented instruments; and turns toward opportunities and challenges in this growing field. At this festive book launch, we enjoyed remarks by the authors, Annette Gardner and Claire Brindis; a panel discussion by advocacy evaluation experts Julia Coffman, Sue Hoechstetter, and APEP’s David Devlin-Foltz; and a lively evening of networking over hors d’oeuvres and drinks.

Shop Talk on Advocacy Evaluation and Learning: Perspectives from the Inside

January 12, 2017, 8:15 – 9:45 am: What do advocacy evaluators talk about over coffee, besides whether to get a pastry or a doughnut? We trade stories about navigating organizational priorities and politics…with integrity. We noodle on how to make the evaluation process more open. We wonder how closely our assigned roles match the way leaders and staff view evaluation’s purpose. And we fret, as everyone does, about utilization—are findings being used and shared in the ways we anticipated? Can we do more to help evaluation stay relevant, even in turbulent times? Our views and opinions are naturally shaped by our jobs, which involve assessing the work of colleagues on internal program teams. To help kick off this constructive coffee chat, Oxfam’s Chris Stalker along with the Pew Charitable Trust’s Michele Lempa and Josh Joseph shared their experiences and observations from their work.

Finding the Advocates: Practical Network Mapping Tools

December 13, 2016, 8:15 – 9:45 am: Mapping the connections in an advocacy field or network can provide great insights to advocates, evaluators – and to funders who seek to develop a field. Often, though, network maps are generated, and then a long “So what?” moment follows. There aren’t many publicly-available examples of network mapping usefully applied in the advocacy evaluation space. We’re delighted to add one! Innovation Network (InnoNet) mapped advocacy capacity across Kansas, developing a series of network maps and an advocate database for use by the Kansas Health Foundation as it tries to understand the landscape of grassroots health policy advocacy capacity across Kansas and make funding decisions. Kat Athanasiades, Senior Associate at Innovation Network, spoke about the rationale for using these tools to map advocacy capacity in Kansas, and Elina Alterman, Program Officer at the Kansas Health Foundation, spoke to how and why these tools were useful.

Oh for the Love of Sticky Notes! The Changing Role of Evaluators Who Work with Foundations

January 29, 2016: Evaluators who work in philanthropy tend to find our jobs a combination of fascinating, challenging, and frustrating. Our roles and the skills we need to be effective in them have grown substantially over the years, largely in response to shifts in how foundations do their work. When foundations first started engaging with evaluation about 40 years ago, evaluators primarily needed to apply social science research skills and answer questions about the impacts of individual grants. As philanthropy has evolved in the years since, evaluators also have had to become theorists, strategists, strategic communicators, systems thinkers, and now coaches, facilitators, and trainers. Using a good dose of humor, Julia Coffman, Director of the Center for Evaluation Innovation and longtime evaluation consultant to foundations, explored that history and its implications for evaluators and foundations, and then invited others into a discussion about how we can effectively manage the high expectations that exist around the evaluation role.

Assessing Advocacy Efforts through the Kaleidoscope of Politics and Policy Change

January 12, 2016: As part of their work to support advocacy strategy development and implementation, evaluators need to maintain a sophisticated understanding of current politics and how they affect the policy change process. Our theories of how policy change occurs need to account for how the political context has shifted over time. For example, they should take into account the hyper-partisanship that created much dysfunction in Washington, D.C. and in many state legislatures, or the profound shifts in media coverage of American politics. Once-effective tactics like cultivating bipartisan coalitions that work to advance policy from the center out, or using traditional media advocacy campaigns, may not have the same impact they once did. At the same time, efforts to foster “transpartisan” coalitions working from the outside in, or to rely on more unabashedly partisan approaches to advancing policy change, will also face obstacles in the current environment. Further complicating these dynamics – all the while creating possibilities for change within them – are concurrent short, medium, and longer term political cycles as well as the ongoing contests for power between different governing institutions and levels of government. Daniel Stid, Director of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Madison Initiative, which aims to improve the ability of Congress to deliberate, negotiate and compromise, will share insights about these changing political dynamics and their implications for policy change strategy and evaluation.

Assessing Community Organizing Capacity 

July 14, 2015: What skills and practices can ready community organizing groups to do their best work? How does that differ from skills and practices for advocacy work? What are some of the key things you need to think about when you’re assessing an organization’s readiness to engage in effective community organizing? To help provide some answers to these questions, Bolder Advocacy’s Sue Hoechstetter and Movement Matters’ David Haiman led a discussion of their approach to assessing community organizing capacity. They walked us through PowerCheck, a new (and free!) capacity assessment tool for nonprofits, foundations, and evaluators. A link to their presentation can be found here.

Local Ownership in Evaluation: Making it Meaningful

April 23, 2015: Frameworks for evaluating development assistance often result in a largely extractive process that risks dehumanizing the experience of those on the receiving end of that assistance. This approach runs counter to a widely accepted principle of development effectiveness – local ownership. Many evaluators agree that it is important to hear from those affected by an intervention. But too often evaluators simply turn program participants into data providers. In this session, our presenters will draw on their recent work to answer questions like: How should program participants be involved in evaluations? How can organizations adopt a local ownership approach? How do we simultaneously ensure quality, rigor and local ownership? More information about our speakers and the event can be found here. A link to Leslie Groves’ presentation can be found here, and Laia Griñó’s presentation can be found here.

The Changing Media Landscape: Implications for an Informed Public

March 3, 2015: It’s a brave new media world. We can get news and information anywhere, anytime, and in any shape or form we please. Partisan media, social media, mobile viewing, news aggregation websites – these are just some of the developments in the media landscape that have changed how we get information… and what information we get. These changes raise normative questions about the media’s role in nurturing an informed citizenry. They also make it ever more difficult to measure media impact.

The Democracy Fund’s Tom Glaisyer, APEP’s Susanna Dilliplane, and the Gates Foundation’s Tom Black tackled salient issues on media impact, measurement, and democracy. Susanna discussed her doctoral research on partisan media effects on American voters. Tom Glaisyer discussed how the Democracy Fund, a relatively young foundation, is seeking to embed measurement and identify impact in its work on media and informed participation. And Tom Black described how the Gates Foundation has used findings from its most ambitious opinion research project – a 5-year, multi-country longitudinal survey of citizen views of global poverty, development, and aid spending  – to inform grant-making and communication with the public about these issues. (Click the links to download each speakers’ powerpoint presentations! Click here to read the description of this event, as well as our speakers’ bios.)