ETB Blogs

ETB Coffee Breaks: Its History and Hopes for Moving the Field

The Story Behind Coffee Breaks

In March 2020, we lost the opportunity to connect in person. We lost in person spaces at conferences, meetings, and in person gatherings. Our ability to engage in relationship building and maintenance was compromised. In response, Expanding the Bench (ETB) created and implemented Coffee Breaks as an opportunity to build relationships between Evaluators from the Advancing Culturally-responsive and Equitable (ACE) Evaluation Network and Funders of Evaluation. We know that power dynamics in the evaluation field still dictate the questions that are asked; who gets funding, who is offered work, where and how does information gets disseminated, and who is invited to the table. Here at ETB, our team, along with a community of evaluators and funders, share its history and our commitments to center racially and ethnically diverse evaluators and build relationships to advance the field and implementation of culturally responsive and equitable evaluation (CREE).

Coffee Breaks were designed to connect ACE Evaluation Network Members and Funders of Evaluation interested in CREE in informal, get-to-know-you settings. While these meetings may lead to direct conversation about work, proposals, and contracts, this is not an expected part of the conversation. In 2020, ETB faced the reality that we would not be meeting in person for a while — no networking and getting coffee with people we wanted to know. ETB, as a facilitator of connections and community, decided to sponsor virtual Coffee Breaks. After receiving positive feedback from our Advisory Team, we launched the service and invited ACE Evaluation Network Members and Funders to grab a beverage of their choice and have an hour-long conversation about their work, equity, CREE and how it can change the evaluation field.

Expanding Connections Within the ETB Community

Coffee Breaks were offered four times a year where we paired ACE Evaluators with Funders for a 1:1 chat based on focus areas and interests. In response to feedback from ACE Network Members and the desire to connect and create potential partnerships within the evaluator community, we offered the opportunity for ACE Members to get coffee with each other. In the final quarter of 2023, to expand more opportunities to connect within the ETB community, we opened Coffee Breaks to Alumni of the Leaders in Equitable Evaluation and Diversity (LEEAD) Program to meet with Funders or ACE Evaluators.

Inception to Impact

Since its inception, ETB has made 505 Coffee Break matches. Every year, our team surveys participants to understand the impact of what relationship-building does and can potentially lead to.

I have found Coffee Breaks very useful. I have been able to connect with a diverse set of evaluators, many of whom I would not have met otherwise. And matchmaking by the ETB staff has made the whole process very easy. These conversations have not only helped us broaden our network but also informed our evolving work to advance and practice culturally responsive and equitable evaluation at Wellspring. I also appreciate that many of the Coffee Break conversations are more than a sales pitch but truly a dialogue for us to learn about each other’s practices and approaches to CREE, making the dynamics and relationships between evaluators and funders just a little more equitable.

Kevin Hong, Funder of Evaluation Senior Evaluation Officer, Wellspring Philanthropic Fund

I feel like these conversations have enhanced my perspective surrounding CREE. I definitely use these conversations to discuss how traditional approaches to evaluation can be enhanced and even transformed by focusing on engaging groups foundations are influencing and allowing those groups to speak to and participate in the evaluation. We also have had conversations on the challenges presented by clashes between traditional evaluation approaches and implementation of CREE principles. I believe these conversations are instrumental in making space for relationships to develop between ETB members and funders. I have learned about the funders goals and the funders have learned about how my experiences may contribute to helping them to achieve their evaluation goals as well as how I might be a thought partner with them in their organization’s work.

Dr. Karen Jackson ACE Evaluation Network Member

Intentions for 2024 and Beyond

While many evaluators and Funders continue to create meaningful connections through Coffee Breaks, we realize that more is needed to build relationships in the evaluation ecosystem. We are mixing things up in 2024. For the first time, we’re offering an ETB Coffee Break Mixer on April 24 at 2:00pm-3:30pm ET to bring together Funders of Evaluation, Evaluators from the ACE Evaluation Network, and LEEAD Alumni to gather as a community as we launch the next round of coffee breaks

This is an opportunity for Funders and Evaluators to meet in a virtual networking space to reflect on the importance of contracting with CREE-practicing evaluators, share and learn about current/upcoming evaluation work, areas of interest, and explore potential connections before committing to 1:1 Coffee Break offerings. We want all participants to be able to share their commitments to CREE, relationship-building, and expanding their evaluation practice. This year we are offering two cycles of matches and hoping to engage more and new evaluators and funders in creating connections for potential partnerships.

We continue to see value in Coffee Breaks and the relationship and community-building that is important in equity work. We will explore avenues to demonstrate how ETB’s relationship- building efforts impact the field and contribute to power sharing, especially with racially and ethnically diverse evaluators. ETB reaffirms its commitment to bridge-building relationships between evaluators and funders and recognizes we cannot do this work without members of the ETB community who seek to change the evaluation field.

~ Nancy Vang, ETB Project Manager and Elizabeth Waetzig, ETB Co-Director