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Building Equitable Evidence: It’s Time to Look to Participants as Experts in Their Own Experience

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Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) blog post written by Lymari Benitez, Yessica Cancel, Mary Marx, & Katie Smith Milway

Today, nonprofits and funders alike increasingly use equity-serving and participant-centered approaches in their program design, and it’s time to sharpen the equity lens on building evidence of a program’s impact. The shift calls for making program participants full partners in evaluation, as experts in their own experience versus subjects of an experimental study.

To explore a more holistic approach, blending participatory findings with empirical data, Pace Center for Girls and MilwayPLUS social impact advisors conducted focus groups, interviews, and a survey with 15 organizations emphasizing participatory approaches in research and evaluation. We worked with three leaders in participatory measurement on this project — Fund for Shared Insight, a funder collaborative; Feedback Labs, which builds NGO peer-learning networks; and Project Evident, an advisor on evidence strategy.

Our findings showed participatory measurement can causally link to outcomes and positively influence capacity building and advocacy. When focus-group participants ranked a series of characteristics before and after the organizations implemented participatory methods, they noted their work became more outcome-focused (27.5 percent higher on average), more inclusive (27.4 percent higher), and more data-driven (26.5 percent higher). More than 70 percent of the organizations we studied reported that participatory methods (most often surveys, focus groups, storytelling, and town halls) helped them define relevant outcomes.

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