The Value of the ACE Evaluation Network: Through the Eyes of a Foundation
This guest blog post is written by Dr. Christine Baker Mitton, Director of Knowledge and Learning, Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland
Those with privilege are most blind to it. Reflecting on this idea challenges me daily to re-examine my actions as director of knowledge and learning at the Sisters of Charity Foundation in Cleveland. I am committed to working with staff and leadership to change our understanding of what qualifies as valid evidence by centering the multiple truths of people with lived expertise in our data collection and evaluation practices. Recently, we designed an evaluation project of our Promise Ambassadors program. This resident leadership development program is integral to the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood, a collective impact initiative modeled after Harlem Children’s Zone that the foundation has incubated since 2010. After ten years, the foundation wanted to understand how the program had impacted Ambassadors and how neighborhood leadership and social capital had changed. I knew I had to recruit an evaluator differently for this project. While it was clear a participatory approach was required to ensure the usefulness of the findings to resident and foundation stakeholders, we had not done work like this before. A local peer suggested we work with Expanding the Bench (ETB), and we soon posted our Request for Proposals to the Advancing Culturally-responsive and Equitable (ACE) Evaluation Network.
Recruiting through the ACE Evaluation Network Database had a tremendous impact on our understandings of how to critically re-examine our evaluation practices through a racial equity lens. Throughout the selection process, our review team of staff and Ambassadors became energized when they began to understand the importance of culturally responsive and equitable evaluation (CREE) to each of the firms we interviewed. Discussing each proposal as a team contributed to our own journey in addressing what qualifies as evidence and the historical role that white-dominant cultural norms have played in evaluation design and implementation. As we considered how each firm’s approach would require Ambassadors to co-lead the project, staff and Ambassadors came to recognize the necessity of this power shift if we were to truly address evaluation’s inequitable norms. More importantly, we could not continue to lift the foundation’s stated commitment to resident leadership if residents were not leading this project and making decisions about which voices should be included and how. I do not think we would have arrived at this shared understanding without the clear commitment to CREE evident in the proposals we received from ACE Network Members.
We went under contract with Amaka Consulting and Evaluation Services, and I am thankful for the working relationships we are developing with Dr. Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha and her team. One of our first steps was to create a core team of Ambassadors to co-lead the work. Recruiting an external evaluator committed to the practice of CREE allowed our staff to understand why we are committed to putting equitable evaluation principles into action. I look forward to our continued relationships with ETB and ACE Network Members.