Coffee Break Reflections, ETB Blogs

Coffee Breaks: Why We Do What We Do

“My advice is to make time to take a break with an ACE Evaluation Network Member. It is a valuable way to enhance your equity journey while at the same time increasing access to networks and opportunities for underrepresented Evaluators.”

– Dr. Murray, The Annie E. Casey Foundation

In July, the Expanding the Bench® (ETB) Team connected Funders of Evaluation and Evaluators from the Advancing Culturally-responsive and Equitable (ACE) Evaluation Network through 1:1 ETB Coffee Breaks for intentional relationship-building, to expand their networks, and to discuss the practice of culturally responsive and equitable evaluation (CREE). After receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants, we hosted another series of coffee breaks in October!

In this blog, ACE Evaluation Network Members Marcia Taborga, PhD and Michael Arnold, PhD and Funder of Evaluation, Kantahyanee Murray, PhD reflect on their Coffee Break experience. They spoke about the motivation behind their work, as well as exchanged ideas and planted seeds for new ones.

Marcia Taborga, Owner and CEO, Seedling Consulting Group, LLC

I find it challenging to get up the courage to “sell myself” so I was tempted to skip the Coffee Break even though my brain knew it was a great opportunity. I imagined I was “supposed” to promote myself and Seedling Consulting Group (Seedling) but I decided to do the opposite. I’d show up honestly and even focus on my current struggles with what I still don’t know. As a small business owner, being transparent is terrifying. When I started Seedling, I felt if I did that, I’d starve. But I co-founded Seedling because I wanted to make tsunami-level changes in the world. In my core I am utterly sure that we can all have greater impact by sitting with discomfort, taking risks, and being open about our limits. It’s the only way we can support each other where and when we need it.

I signed up to do the Coffee Break and I got to meet Kantahyanee Murray from The Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) and Kelci Price from The Colorado Health Foundation.

These are two highly intelligent, resourceful women who are passionate about doing their work in an equitable way. This was excellent. I had been asking myself and struggling with how to go deeper with our efforts at equitable evaluation. I learned about questions we should be asking ourselves and the processes we could use. We had rich, genuine conversations that nurtured some seeds I had planted the year before. Both were incredibly generous offering resources and follow-up meetings. It wasn’t just what I learned in the meetings but the continuous learning that happened for me afterward by mulling over the talks, notes, and incredible resources they shared.

Those seeds that were nurtured? As a person who grew up in the communities we serve, I’ve been thinking about how to raise the voice of community members in evaluation itself. I thought, “What if we go beyond hearing stories in qualitative interviews to identifying partners who we nurture to be on our evaluation team, be an equitable voice at quarterly stakeholder meetings?” This past month, a Funder got excited about this with us and if all goes well, by this time next year, we will have juvenile-justice involved youth and their families on our evaluation team as full-fledged partners.

Of course, not all my risks work out. This is why these Coffee Breaks and the ACE Network are so invaluable. They give us a chance to be human together so we can all go out and have a collective impact much greater than anything we could do on our own.

I’m so grateful to ETB, my fellow ACE Network Members, Kelci, and Kantahyanee for their highly generous support.

To learn more about Marcia Taborga, sign up to access the ACE Evaluation Network Database and query for her professional profile. Connect with Marcia on LinkedIn!

Michael Arnold, Director, Informing Change

Among the many benefits of these one-on-one Coffee Breaks, one particularly stands out from my opportunity to meet Kantahyanee Murray of AECF. As shared in prior reflections, as Evaluators it is a privilege to meet and hear about the work and priorities of Funders we hadn’t yet met. 

But it also gives us the opportunity to begin and expand cross-fertilizing ideas. As our field continues to expand beyond the confines of accountability measurement and explore the full range of approaches, content, and applications of dynamic and systems-oriented evaluation, we grow from sharing and learning with each other. Our strength comes from creating and exploring ideas together. 

In my chat with Kantahyanee, I had the opportunity to do just that. After getting to know each other’s backgrounds and some interesting points of overlap, we started talking deeper about our work. Not just what we do, but how we do it and why. Having the opportunity to talk about these things across organizations is the type of benefit that lies at the heart of networks like ETB and the ACE Evaluation Network. We talked about evidence, the forms it takes, what it means to evaluation, and how to build it. Some of this was just the beginning of ideas. Others, we had both been thinking on for some time. This exchange of ideas and opportunity to meet on a level that isn’t specifically project-based is just another great reason to take up opportunities such as the Coffee Breaks. In addition to building our networks and deepening our awareness of each other, these informal pressure-free chances to talk are the perfect birthplace for ideas. And ideas, as nationally we stand at this moment of opportunity, are what is needed.

To learn more about Michael Arnold, sign up to access the ACE Evaluation Network Database and query for his professional profile. Connect with Michael on LinkedIn!

Kantahyanee Murray, Senior Research Associate, The Annie E. Casey Foundation

I find this moment an extraordinary time to be a Funder of Evaluation interested in advancing racial equity. Now more than ever, Funders along with the Evaluators and communities with which we partner have an array of frameworks, tools, and other resources to amplify equity – both as a means and an end – in our collaborative work. I am energized and inspired to act with a great sense of urgency as we all bear witness to the dire consequences of systemic racism and injustice in public health and law enforcement in 2020.

Fortunately, the evaluation ecosystem has created many avenues to put our equity values into practice, even in these challenging times. 

ETB Coffee Breaks have expanded my network of underrepresented evaluation professionals and provided a forum for me to learn about the ways these seasoned Evaluators are applying culturally responsive and equitable evaluation in their work. Win and win.

I have spoken with talented Evaluators across the country and learned about the interesting and innovative work they are doing. Engaging community and participants in evaluation in ways that facilitate their ownership and authentic inclusion in decision-making tables have been consistent themes in our conversations. These discussions have helped to stretch my thinking and spurred some needed reflection. I learned about ACE Network Members’ innovative work in areas such as developing and evaluating board games for social change, embedding participatory action research in public system evaluation, and elevating different approaches to gathering and recognizing knowledge. One Evaluator challenged me to think about our equitable future, what it looks like and how we can get there through visioning, model development, and evidence building. I also shared information about Casey’s work and my team’s equity-focused policy research and evaluation efforts. When appropriate, I facilitated connections to other organizations and Funders.

In this time of physical distancing, the Coffee Breaks have been a great way to pause and connect with others who share my commitment to equity. My advice is to make time to take a break with an ACE Evaluation Network Member. I think you’ll find this a valuable way to enhance your equity journey while increasing opportunities and access to networks for underrepresented Evaluators.

To learn more about Kantahyanee Murray, connect with her on LinkedIn!