Innovative Evaluation

CEI’s evaluation work focuses on efforts that are complex and challenging to assess, including policy advocacy, power building, and other forms of systems change.

We partner with foundations on evaluation, but also work directly with social movements and nonprofit networks to track change and deepen learning.

Much of our evaluation work is done in partnership with other evaluators in the sector who share a common interest in power and a commitment to Equitable Evaluation Framework™ principles.

Current Work

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Community Power Initiative

Recognizing that power is a social determinant of health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), through the Supporting Community Power to Build Health Equity (Community Power) initiative, is centering community power-building organizations (CPBOs) as key actors in advancing health equity and racial justice. This work aims to achieve health equity by building the social, economic, and political power of people in communities who long have been the targets of systemic exclusion and discrimination. With expanded power, communities impacted by structural inequities can act together to address the root causes of those inequities.

The Local Base Building and Birth Justice components of the Community Power initiative recognize the critical role of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPoC)-led base building and birth justice organizations in the South. Because power building and systems change to produce more equitable outcomes is necessarily long-term and emergent, strengthening the capacity of these organizations is crucial to achieving and sustaining transformational change.

Social Insights Research (Social Insights) and the Center for Evaluation Innovation are partnering on the evaluation of these two elements of the Community Power initiative. As a team, we promote and utilize a perspective that considers the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and other positionalities. We strive to consistently incorporate strategies to mitigate the impact of systems of oppression—including within the processes of evaluation itself. This means sharing power with those most impacted by an issue and deliberately centering their stories, questions, goals, and analyses.

State Advocacy Infrastructure to Advance Equitable Access to Head Start and IDEA

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is funding two projects intended to support state and federal advocacy infrastructure on Early Head Start/Head Start (EHS/HS) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). National early childhood advocates are working with selected states on building or strengthening state coalitions that are inclusive of families and communities, and on developing equitable state-level policy agendas.

The Center for Evaluation Innovation is partnering with the Center on the Ecology of Early Development (CEED) at Boston University in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development to evaluate these two projects. The evaluation is formative, designed to inform the two projects as they unfold, to help set them up for future advocacy success.

Past Work

The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities Initiative

We worked with The California Endowment to evaluate the policy advocacy work associated with the Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Initiative. BHC was a 10-year, $1 billion comprehensive community initiative launched in 2010 to advance statewide policy, change the narrative, and transform 14 of California’s communities most devastated by health inequities into places where all people have an opportunity to thrive. The evaluation examined what it takes for advocacy to build power in addition to achieving wins.

The Hewlett Foundation’s Madison Initiative 

We worked with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation on the evaluation of its Madison Initiative to strengthen U.S. democracy and its institutions—especially Congress—in this time of political polarization. We led a developmental evaluation during the Initiative’s initial phase of experimentation, learning, and field building. We used an innovative evaluation and learning approach that applied systems thinking and evolved to incorporate a combination of developmental, formative, and summative approaches.

Save the Children’s Early Childhood Advocacy Campaign

Supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we evaluated Save the Children’s U.S. advocacy in states and at the federal level for high-quality early childhood education policies. The evaluation was both formative and summative. Our approach was an opportunity to advance the advocacy evaluation field by examining deployment of 501c3 funding alongside 501c4 resources, and using summative evaluation methods (contribution analysis in combination with the bellwether methodology) that are still fairly new to the advocacy context.