We are at crossroads when it comes to evaluation, its purpose, and how it is used. Before the pandemic and into the recovery phase, evaluation has been largely used to artificially enforce “accountability” and maintain a transactional relationship between funders and non-profit organizations. Demand for “accountability”; expectation to do more with less; and reporting on impacts are phrases that keep leaders of non-profits, including B3s awake at night. These phrases are particularly disempowering in an environment of transactional relationship between funders and non-profits. You might ask, what does this have to do with evaluation? Everything!
Let’s think and reflect deeply on these phrases: Demand for accountability – who is demanding accountability and whose interest is fulfilled by meeting that accountability? Expectation to do more with less – who is expecting or promising to do more with less? Reporting on impacts – who is defining impact and/or how is impact defined and understood?
Evaluation is neither neutral nor objective and in a transactional relationship between funders and non-profit organizations, its sole purpose becomes keeping the transactional relationship in place. Whether evaluation is conducted by less trained community practitioners or well-trained professionals from academic institutions or consulting firms, it doesn’t produce the desired results (true accountability and learning) in an environment of transactional relationship between funders and non-profits.
As we move into the recovery phase from the pandemic and beyond, investing in evaluation capacity building is not going to be enough. Collectively, we need to think and reflect deeply about: 1) Accountability – who is demanding accountability and whose interest are we fulfilling by meeting accountability? 2) Expectation to do more with less – who is expecting non-profits to do more with less or why are non-profits promising to do more with less? 3) Reporting on impacts – are funders defining impact and/or non-profits accepting impacts funders defined for them and the communities they served? How do funders and non-profits understand impact and does their understanding align with the communities served? Evaluation done in an environment of transformational relationship between funders and non-profits, where there is a shared understanding accountability, expectation, and impact becomes an empowering tool for involved stakeholders, including the communities served.
Non-profits, including B3 organizations, and funders are important players and are critical in meeting urgent needs and improving the living conditions of communities they serve. However, the demands for accountability and impact reporting, government and
other funders expect require significant investments in building evaluation capacity of non-profits, including B3 organizations in data and evaluation to meet community accountability, learning needs, and tell true impact stories. More importantly, the relationship between funders and non-profits needs to shift from transactional to transformational, where there is a shared understanding of accountability, expectation, and impact.
The use of data and evaluation is critical only in an environment of transformational relationship, where the voices of all stakeholders, including the communities served are heard and used to draw lessons learned and impacts obtained. Again, whether evaluation is conducted by less trained community practitioners or well-trained professionals, its purpose should be to improve work done on behalf of and with communities; generate and deepen knowledge; ensure accountability to stakeholders (particularly communities served); and make informed decisions.
As we move into recovery from the pandemic and beyond, our collective challenge is going to be the extent to which we are able and committed to shift our collective mindset to cultivate transformational relationship and do and use evaluation in the context of a transformational relationship. In a transformational funding relationship, non-profits, regardless of their size and reach, use data generated from their work (through informal and formal evaluation) to demonstrate the impact of their work on the communities they serve. In a transformational funding relationship, funders are willing to learn with non-profits they partner with from data generated from the work on the ground and the impact generated. In a transformational relationship, data and evaluation become means for non-profits and funders to learn together; and meet accountability to communities served.
We invite your perspectives and feedback regarding evaluation. Please contact Yonatan Ghebray, Senior Director, Evaluation, Learning and Quality Improvement.
What are Networks
Most of us in the non-profit sector think of networks as groups of people or organizations working towards a common goal: prison reform, educational justice, food sovereignty, housing or equitable health care, to name a few. Often, we envision networks as a series of ‘dots and lines.’ And at the most basic level that is accurate. Yet, behind the dots and lines are people with specific functions to truly make a network transformational. As June Holley contends, most successful networks have four carefully crafted interlocking aspects that support and complement one another: an intentional network, relationship network, action network, and support network. When all four parts coalesce, the overall network can truly be transformative. Change in communities happen through the involvement of individual leaders, grassroots, small and large organizations, and networks. The Network for the Advancement of Black Communities (NABC) is a network, and you can visit our website to learn about the various ways our network engages to strengthen the Black ecosystem.
The Network Mapping Working Group
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed in numerous ways that the Black ecosystem lacks a sustainable digital infrastructure that would enable B3 non-profit groups and organizations to collaborate and self-organize easily across Canada.
In February 2023, NABC (Network for the Advancement of Black Communities) will spearhead the launch of a new Network Mapping Working Group (NMWG). The main goal will be to create a digital map that shows existing relationships and connections between various stakeholders within the NABC network. Over the course of three months, NMWG participants will gain skill sets to help them better harness the strengths of the Black ecosystem. Participants will (a) learn how to create effective mapping surveys (b) will develop greater literacy in reading network maps (c) expand their understanding of network weaving practices and (d) the importance of network thinking for B3 organizations.
By implementing the NMWG, we hope to create a space that fosters the social connectivity and collective impact of B3 agencies. NABC envisions a strong and sustainable Black community sector, and by forming intentional networks and taking a networked approach we can drive positive outcomes for Black communities. Please contact our Director of Network Weaving and Communication, Denise Challenger, to join the NMWG where we will explore digital mapping, network weaving, and network leadership within the context of Black Canada.
Most non-profits, particularly black-led, black-focused, and black-serving organizations, groups, and networks (B3s) operate in precarious financial positions. Accessing funding and capacity-building supports to sustain their work is a challenge. Many are faced with capacity and system related barriers and increasing demands for accountability and expectation to demonstrate impact.
While Covid-19 has impacted the non-profit sector, B3s felt the brunt of its impact. Before Covid-19 hit, many B3s were reeling from the shrinking pool of funding opportunities and struggling to find funders to support the important work they do in their communities. Even with good ideas that aim to address real communities’ needs, many find it difficult to compete with mainstream nonprofits due to a lack of staffing capacity to prepare strong funding applications. Funding requirements associated with granting processes also pose insurmountable barriers. This prevents them from successfully competing for access to funding, capacity-building supports, and other resources to advance their mission.
When Covid 19 hit, it exacerbated preexisting challenges and barriers B3s faced, and severely hampered their ability to sustain their work and serve their communities. The challenges and barriers in the grantmaking environment put many B3s at a great disadvantage. Even when NABC and its allies worked with B3s and advocated for removal of some of the barriers in the granting process (e.g., Covid – 19 emergency response funding) the challenges remained.
NABC recognizes that these challenges and barriers are systemic in nature and require system level intervention. NABC continues to work with B3s and its allies to advocate and work for system-level change (e.g., Strengthening B3s, Advocating for Core Funding, Systems Change, and Promote Smart Grantmaking). These efforts are critical and require long-term and continuous commitment to help transform the funding environment. At the same time, building the capacity of B3s is a critical part of transforming the funding environment. Here are some grounding perspectives B3s need to think about when seeking and writing grants.
For more information on grant seeking and writing, please contact our Senior Director of Evaluation, Learning and Quality Improvement, Yonatan Ghebray.
Black-led, Black-focused, and Black-serving (B3) organizations, groups, and networks have not fared well before the pandemic hit, in terms of access to funding and capacity building supports. The pandemic exacerbated the challenges they faced to the extent that many of them struggled to adequately support the Black communities they served. NABC continues to advocate for B3s in the recovery phase and post-pandemic reality for long-term investment to strengthen their capacity to recover from the pandemic and thrive post-pandemic.
NABC believes building the evaluation capacity of Black-led, Black-focused, and Black-serving (B3) organizations is critical to their recovery and resilience post-pandemic. B3s need sustained support to build their capacity to evaluate their work; use evaluation data to learn from their work; and improve results for Black communities they serve. Lessons from the field of capacity building indicates that organizations that are adept at learning and adapting to new challenges are more likely to remain viable. Thus, NABC and its partners believe building the evaluation capacity of B3s will also contribute towards strengthening the Black communities Sector.
The Evaluation Capacity Building (ECB) Pilot is testing an approach to evaluation capacity building that is different from traditional capacity building by providing contextualized, customized, comprehensive and continuous evaluation learning and support. NABC is implementing the pilot in collaboration with B3s and Black evaluation practitioners. The implementation consists of assessing needs, co-designing and customizing ECB support, tracking progress, and documenting lessons learned. Participants are engaged in a phased implementation process where they have access to learning resources, technical assistance, coaching, convening, and peer learning.
The primary outcome of the pilot is the learning that emerges for all stakeholders involved from testing the approach for building evaluation capacity. Participants will gain a deeper appreciation of the purpose of program evaluation in the context of their individual work. Additionally, we hope to promote Afrocentric perspectives in evaluative thinking and practice; create data and evaluation friendly spaces that strengthen evaluation culture and evidence-based practice and decision making in the Black communities sector.
To learn more about the pilot, please contact our Senior Director of Evaluation, Learning and Quality Improvement, Yonatan Ghebray.
Last week, the Network for the Advancement of Black Communities (NABC) welcomed Black community housing leaders from across Canada for a retreat on Wasan Island to ignite discussions that speak to the evolution of Black community housing. Historically, systemic racism and discriminatory practices have created significant barriers to safe, affordable, and equitable housing for Black people. Addressing this requires intentional engagements and collaborative solutions. The retreat created a safe and caring space for leaders, advocates, and experts in Black community housing to convene, share experiences, and understand how their individual work connects to the broader housing landscape. Attendees represented diverse perspectives and backgrounds united by a common goal of advancing Black community housing.
The retreat focused on three critical components for improving Black community housing. First, attendees co-developed best approaches for the implementation of a Black Community Housing Network (BCHN). The network intends to provide a unified platform for Black leaders in housing to share knowledge, best practices, and resources, resulting in more efficient and impactful initiatives, and create a space for collective advocacy, amplifying Black voices in policy discussions and decision-making processes. Second, they addressed the need for a National Black Community Housing Strategy (BCHS) that would specifically speak to the concerns of Black communities, appropriately inform relevant institutions and enable better decision-making. Attendees co-created potential components and considerations for a BCHS that will enable further consultations and engagements across the country. Third, attendees were informed and given the opportunity to exchange ideas about the establishment of a Black Community Technical Housing Resource Center that will aim to increase the organizational capacity of existing and upcoming Black community-driven housing projects and initiatives.
As the discussions and collaborations from this retreat continue to unfold, it is evident that a brighter housing future is on the horizon for Black people in Canada. Through the collective efforts of dedicated individuals and organizations, we are determined to make a lasting impact on Black community housing, creating a future where everyone has access to safe, affordable, and dignified housing. By cultivating a sense of collective responsibility and collaboration, NABC aims to foster lasting partnerships that will strengthen the housing sector and advance the interests of Black communities across the country.
The retreat underscored the significance of remembering the “Human” in “Human Resources” or “H” in “HR,” as explained by the retreat’s facilitator Allan Boesak, NABC’s Senior Coordinator for Strategic Initiatives. Boesak emphasized that despite our diverse approaches, we share the common goal of improving the wellbeing of Black communities. By embracing our shared humanity, we foster an environment of compassion and understanding, even in the face of adversity. Attendees acknowledged that meaningful change requires collaboration, partnership, and a deep understanding of our shared lived experience. By remembering the “H” in “HR” we strengthen our capacity to work collaboratively and emphasize the importance of centering compassion and empathy in every aspect of our work.
To learn more about these three housing initiatives, or if you have interest in being added to the Black Community Housing Network, please contact Allan Boesak.