We are committed to learning from our efforts and continuously improving in pursuit of the greatest impact.

Through learning and evaluation, we seek meaningful, actionable, and manageable insights to inform our strategies and the field.

We intentionally put “learning” first in our team’s name to reflect our primary purpose: to make continual strategic learning an integral part of our culture at Barr.

We support learning and evaluation activities that are meaningful, actionable, manageable, and equitable.

Learning and Evaluation Graphic

Meaningful

Our learning and evaluation activities aim to produce relevant information on questions that support foundation and grantee learning and advance understanding in our fields.

We emphasize learning and evaluation approaches that recognize the complexity of systems change work and the reality that the greatest impact comes when we listen, learn, and adjust along the way, such as formative or developmental evaluation. This way, Barr and our grantees learn together about what is working well and when a new approach is needed. We also invest significantly in outcome measurement, as we do need to gauge whether conditions are changing, and ideally gain insight into potential factors leading to positive change or standing as barriers to that change.

As we also make grants for general operating support or other flexible funding Barr’s grantees, many of those grants do not define specific outcomes up-front or minimize most reporting requirements. This enables grantees to focus on doing their work, rather than measuring and reporting to us. For more on the ways we learn with and from our grantees, read Yvonne’s blog on shifting learning practices.

Our evaluation priorities are shaped by team-specific learning questions. Each year, in partnership with grantees and the L&E team, program teams develop learning questions informed by ongoing work and the context of their issue areas. These questions aim to highlight knowledge gaps and areas of uncertainty where evaluation could help us make better decisions.

Manageable

Our activities are structured to maximize learning and minimize burdens on our partners and staff. The most important step here is to spend time up front to think deeply about the most critical few pieces of information we need (vs. the universe of data that would be “nice” to have), for what purposes and audiences. Too often, evaluation and measurement start with trying to anticipate all the possible information one might want, resulting in costly, complex, and difficult processes.

One of the key ways we aim to maximize learning at the grant level is by linking grant outcomes to the grantee reporting process. This is a collaborative process; in the grant application phase, many grantees co-design outcomes with their program officer, and these outcomes ultimately shape reporting requirements. We strive to ensure that these outcomes are meaningful, realistic to measure within the grant time frame, and focused on what is important to grantees and not just the foundation.

For more, read Kerri Hurley's blog on our grant application process and CEP's blog on removing grantee burdens.

Actionable

We focus on questions and information that can be applied directly to increase the impact of an intervention or strategy.

As part of our strategic learning process, each program team has identified a set of medium- and long-term outcomes that they believe would indicate meaningful progress toward their strategy goals. We collect data on these indicators and gather other information that would shed light on the progress they are making and inform adjustments to our approach so we can have more positive impact over time. Recent examples of actionable information include Climate polling on natural gas and the Education program’s use of Indicators of School Quality.

In major initiatives where we engage evaluation consultants to help us assess our progress, our grantees are our partners in learning. These evaluations are designed to provide insight to Barr and its grantees about our collective progress, to capture key lessons, and to note opportunities for improvement. In these multi-year partnerships, taking action based on feedback from our grantees is essential to ensuring that Barr’s support is effective and responsive to sector needs.

Equitable

We are examining our learning and evaluation practices through an equity lens. As a Practice Partner with the Equitable Evaluation Initiative, we recognize our responsibility as a funder to shift and influence the way in which evaluation is practiced and used, meaning that we seek to align our evaluation practices with Barr’s commitment to equitable grantmaking, and that we use evaluation as a tool for advancing equity, in alignment with the Equitable Evaluation Framework.

Our Learning and Evaluation team also supports our grantmaking teams in analyzing the type and level of funding dedicated to organizations led by people of color and organizations with an explicit focus on racial equity and sharing those results, such as through this blog post from our Director of Climate.

How the Learning & Evaluation Team Works

At Barr, we seek to learn at multiple levels, from individual grants to initiatives and overall strategies.

The Learning & Evaluation Team partners across the Foundation to:

  • Support our program teams to incorporate a learning orientation into their strategies, establish outcome indicators for our grantmaking areas, and facilitate ongoing data-informed reflection with program teams and grantees.
  • Commission external learning and evaluation projects to understand our context and test assumptions through activities such as landscape scans and public opinion polls and engage in cohort- and initiative-level evaluations that support foundation and grantee learning.
  • Collaborate with other funders and evaluation consultants to share what we’re learning through conference presentations and webinars, blog posts, and our Knowledge Center.

Knowledge Center

Visit a collection of relevant shared learning from our partners and in our program areas on the Foundation Center’s website. These resources are completely free to access and download.

Barr's Knowledge Center

Inquiries

Barr aims to increase diversity within the Foundation's current pool of research and evaluation partners. We encourage those whose skills and areas of expertise align with our priorities to introduce themselves. Submit introductions via email to ybelanger@barrfoundation.org.

Learning and Evaluation News