Nearly a decade ago, FSG published What’s the Difference: How Foundation Trustees View Evaluation, exploring how boards and trustees were thinking about evaluation, and providing tools for foundation leaders and staff to help their boards better understand evaluation in the context of grantmaking for social change.
It’s stating the obvious to say that much has changed since then; the world is increasingly complex, with rapidly changing political and technological environments. Since adopting an adaptive approach and a learning orientation are requirements in today’s world, grantmakers and evaluators are paying increased attention to assessing the impact of their grantmaking.
Engaging Boards and Trustees in Strategic Learning, a new toolkit from FSG and GEO, provides a fresh set of resources for grantmaker CEOs, evaluation staff, and senior leaders to engage their boards and trustees in conversations about strategic learning. Central to this work is the belief that practicing strategic learning is critical to a foundation as it strives to achieve progress on its goals.
In creating this toolkit, FSG and GEO talked to 21 evaluation experts, foundation leaders, and board members, and consulted with an Advisory Group made up of 12 foundation CEOS, senior level staff, and evaluation directors who provided insightful feedback and thought partnership. Our conversations with these experts in the field surfaced 6 “action imperatives” that call for boards’ participation in conversations and activities related to strategic learning.
Staff can use the 10 practical tools we’ve developed to help their boards live into these action imperatives, which means understanding strategic learning, why it’s critical, and how to integrate learning into their work to increase their impact. For example, tools like the Strategic Learning Self-Assessment can help board members understand what elements of strategic learning they are already practicing and where they might need to grow. Another tool, a set of more than 25 discussion questions, provides grantmaker leaders and staff with language for facilitating critical conversations about equity, systems change, and other important topics related to learning with their boards. The 2 case studies we’ve included about foundation leaders engaging their boards in strategic learning help to illustrate these possibilities.
This work was made possible by grants from the Barr Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and Walton Family Foundation who believe in the power of strategic learning and evaluation to improve practice. Here’s what they have to say about the piece:
– Kim Ammann Howard
Director of Impact Assessment and Learning, The James Irvine Foundation
– Marc Holley
Strategy, Learning, and Evaluation Director, Walton Family Foundation
– Jim Canales
President, Barr Foundation
We appreciate our funders’ generous support and hope that other grantmakers will find Engaging Boards and Trustees in Strategic Learning a useful resource in their work.