The Devolution Initiative Evaluation: Innovation and Learning at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Published: July 2004

Type: Teaching Case

This teaching case focuses on the evaluation of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Devolution Initiative in the wake of federal welfare and health care reforms in the mid-1990s.


Teaching cases are factual stories of one foundation’s in-depth experiences related to evaluation and learning. Stories highlight important challenges that confront foundations in their evaluation work, and put readers in the role of decision makers who are confronted with problems and options for solutions as the story unfolds. This teaching case was produced for the Evaluation Roundtable, a network of evaluation and learning leaders in foundations.


Federal welfare and health care reforms in the mid-1990s resulted in the “devolution” of powers, responsibilities, and funding from the federal to state and local levels of government. In the wake of those reforms, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation created a cross-foundation task force to look at what it might do to inform devolution-related policy decisions in the communities historically of interest to the Foundation. The result was the Devolution Initiative, a seven-year, $56 million project with 31 grantees and a $3.6 million external evaluation conducted by the Harvard Family Research Project.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation historically had focused on communities and community-level issues, and had been disinclined to engage in public policy issues. The Foundation also was historically reluctant to support research, including policy research. But as national welfare reform and and health care devolution were being discussed, a convergence of events and changes in the Foundation led to an interest in both informing devolved welfare reform and health care policy using both research and advocacy in a set of targeted states.

The Devolution Initiative and its evaluation intentionally unfolded together. Because grantmaking was focused on new areas of focus for the Foundation and was because the Initiative engaged for the first time a cross-program team to work on it, the Foundation wanted an evaluation that would help guide the work in real time.

This teaching case looks at the context, background, premises, questions, challenges, and lessons of the Devolution Initiative and its evaluation, including the implications it had on future practice at the Foundation.