Strategy and Learning Consulting

We partner with values-aligned foundations and co-conspirators who seek to transform and reform philanthropic strategy, evaluation, and learning practices.

Our consulting aims to improve the ability of teams and leaders to shape and guide effective practice and change, and to increase their ability to shape and promote it in the philanthropic sector as a whole.

Our Work in Action

Omidyar Network

We’ve partnered with Omidyar Network to provide support to their New Data Economy and Private Trustworthy Message teams as they apply a systems approach to their strategy development and internalevaluation efforts. We are excited by this partnership because it lays a new path for our strategy and learning consulting and work on complex social change. We’re always exploring ways to engage foundations in creating, sustaining, and measuring systems change using causal loop mapping and systems thinking tools.

Our goals are to collaborate toward a better understanding of the systems they’re working with(in), the complex dynamics, patterns, and behaviors of the systems, create causal loops maps, and understand how power and equity show up in these systems.

Practices we’re applying to this partnership: systems thinking, systems change, causal loop mapping, emergent and participatory learning

Resources we’re drawing from: The Omidyar Group’s Systems Practice Workbook, Lost Causal: Debunking Myths About Causal Analysis in Philanthropy

Meyer Memorial Trust

We’re partnering with Oregon’s Meyer Memorial Trust—an organization that is working to accelerate racial, social, and economic justice for the collective well-being of Oregon’s lands and peoples—as they work to make their grantmaking more trust-based and community-informed. Between January-December 2022, we will collaborate with staff and leadership to grow their culture of learning.

Our goals for this work include developing participatory ways of learning and processing information as an organization, operationalizing learning tools with staff and community, and refining their strategy to include outcomes and indicators of impact that align with their community engagement. At CEI, we’re excited by this partnership because of the trend toward more equitable, community-centered grantmaking and how this approach might strengthen the field of philanthropy.

Practices we’re applying to this partnership: emergent learning, community engagement, deep listening, trust-based philanthropy

Resources we’re drawing from: Toward a Trust-Based Framework for Learning and Evaluation; How to Ask Powerful Questions; 5-A-Day: Learning By Force of Habit; How Leaders Affect Evaluation Capacity Building in Foundations

Minnesota Black Collective Foundation 

Co-founded in May 2020 amid the uprising for racial justice, the Minnesota Black Collective Foundation envisions a game changing, culturally rooted, community-led foundation that creates the conditions for a thriving and connected ecosystem of Black-led change. The Collective partners with changemakers who are working to realize a just Minnesota where Black people are holistically well and live with dignity and prosperity.

CEI is partnering with the Collective as they build a community-led foundation that can drive transformative change. The Collective is being designed as a learning organization. We are gathering wisdom on centering Black lives in the ways funds are invested to create change in Minnesota and beyond. Our work includes developing a community-informed, shared definition of Black-led change and racial justice to inform how philanthropy invests in the ecosystem of Black-led change in Minnesota. We will be developing a wayfinding guide as a learning and evaluation tool for changemakers.

Practices we’re applying to this partnership: emergent strategy, and learning, radical imagination

Resources we’re drawing from: Mismatched: Philanthropy’s Response to the Call for Racial Justice; Toward a Trust-Based Framework for Learning and Evaluation; The Price of Civil Rights: Black Lives, White Funding, and Movement Capture; YPC 2022 Sustaining Momentum: Racial Equity in Philanthropy

Miami Workers Center

We are partnering with the Miami Workers’ Center, a member-led organization that builds power and self-determination with Black and Brown women workers, tenants, and families in Miami. Our collaboration began in spring 2021 with the goal of nurturing their culture of learning and refining their strategy and is continuing in 2022 and beyond.

We are connecting directly with grassroots organizers about what they need and want without the challenging power dynamics that are typically present in a funder-initiated engagement. This means we are not bounded by grantmaking timelines or foundation strategy which typically pull our energy into figuring how the work can fit into a black box rather than spending most of our energy focusing on what it is going to take to support organizers and power builders in realizing their missions of equity, justice, and liberation. We get to be emergent, responsive, innovative, and flexible–moving with and in the moment. 

This is our first pro bono relationship and an opportunity for us to explore what is possible when we first work with an organizing and power building organization and then connect with funders. Our intent is to explore how we can pull philanthropy to center them.

Practices we are applying: values-based organization design and development, learning agendas, emergent learning, capacity building, multiple ways of knowing and being

Resources we are applying: How Leaders Affect Evaluation Capacity Building in Foundations; Power Building Ecosystem Framework

Past Work

David and Lucile Packard Foundation

We have a long-term coaching and consultative relationship with the Packard Foundation’s Children, Families, and Communities program. We support the team on their overall evaluation and learning systems, and with specific activities such as advising on theories of change, learning agendas, learning meetings, monitoring approaches, and external evaluations.

Arcus Foundation

We worked with the Arcus Foundation on enhancing their learning capabilities. We helped an internal team develop an approach for embedding strategic learning into the Foundation’s team-based and cross-team work through culture change and a high level of staff involvement.

Obama Foundation

We worked with the Obama Foundation‘s Impact and Evaluation manager to develop a learning and evaluation system that would fit the Foundation’s unique needs. We conducted research with the Foundation’s staff and stakeholders and helped to co-develop an approach that could deliver high evaluative value while being realistic and right-sized.