The biweekly ‘So What?’ guide highlights advice, events, and tips — mostly from the advocacy and evaluation worlds, selected by the Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program.
Critiquing Grant Reports from Both Sides of the Table
APEP’s past, current, and (we hope) future clients include foundations. And one APEP-per is a recovering grantmaker. We take a close and generally sympathetic interest in how foundations think about the value of their evaluations. (For example, see the top item in our most recent blog post, about the Hewlett Foundation’s assessment of 50 recent evaluations it commissioned). So imagine how pleased we were to see this thoughtful, funny, and tough exchange on Medium about whether and how to make grant reports evaluatively useful. To their credit, author David Sasaki and his partner-in-dialogue Dennis Whittle acknowledge that both grantmaker and grantees are responsible for the typically dubious evaluative utility of these reports. We love their ideas for encouraging clear and candid reporting. May it be so.
Why is Alexa Laughing at Me?
For those of us who remember (pine for?) the days when snail mail was just “mail” and the telephone was neither smart nor dumb, the pace of change in the ways we communicate is disconcerting. Or so Paul Sutton reminds us in this recent post. An example: the rise of voice searches. Apparently, we structure our queries differently when using voice-enabled digital assistants versus typing. And that affects the search results provided. Ok, Google: Does this have implications for how advocates and communications strategists develop digital content— and, by extension, how to assess the effectiveness of that content? (We tried asking Alexa, but she just laughed at us).
Funding Social Movements
Over decades, a massive global literature has emerged on understanding and assessing social movements. A quick search (thanks, Google) yields examples from Turkey, Scotland, Canada, Mexico, India, and Wall Street. Evaluators grapple with what exactly defines a “movement” in its historical and cultural context. Our friends at Innovation Network (InnoNet) and their Social Movement Learning Project are taking a fresh look at the challenge and have just released the executive summary of a new study looking specifically at why funders often struggle to support social movements, and what they can do better. We wonder if its definitions and recommendations would hold outside the US.