We’ve all been there. The time when the foundation seems to forget the research project ever happened as soon as the final check is cut. The time when your report stuffed full of creative recommendations gets buried by risk-averse leadership. The time when the stakeholder group really does seem engaged by the findings, has lots of conversations, and then…nothing changes.
These stories happen with remarkable frequency. In fact, based on the evidence, there’s ample reason to believe they are the norm rather than the exception. Among more than 120 evaluation and program executives surveyed at private foundations in the U.S. and Canada, more than three-quarters had difficulty commissioning evaluations that result in meaningful insights for the field, their grantees, or the foundation itself, and 70 percent have found it challenging to incorporate evaluation results into the foundation’s future work. A survey of more than 1,600 civil servants in Pakistan and India found that “simply presenting evidence to policymakers doesn’t necessarily improve their decision-making,” with respondents indicating “that they had to make decisions too quickly to consult evidence and that they weren’t rewarded when they did.” No wonder Deloitte’s Reimagining Measurement initiative, which asked more than 125 social sector leaders what changes they most hoped to see in the next decade, identified “more effectively putting decision-making at the center” as the sector’s top priority.
This problem affects everyone working to make the world a better place, but it’s especially salient for those I call “knowledge providers”: researchers, evaluators, data scientists, forecasters, policy analysts, strategic planners, and more. It’s relevant not only to external consultants but also to internal staff whose primary role is analytical in nature. And if the trend continues, we can expect that it’s eventually going to catch up to professionals working in philanthropy. Why spend precious money and time seeking information, after all, if it’s unlikely to deliver any value to us?
Frustrating as this phenomenon may be, the reason for it is simple. All too often, we dive deep into a benchmarking report, evidence review, or policy analysis with only a shallow understanding of how the resulting information will be used. It’s not enough merely to have a general understanding of the stakeholder’s motivations for commissioning such a project. If we want this work to be useful, we have to anticipate the most important dilemmas they will face, determine what information would be most helpful in resolving those dilemmas, and then explicitly design any analysis strategy around meeting those information needs. And if we really want our work to be useful, we have to continue supporting decision makers after the final report is delivered, working hand in hand with them to ensure any choices made take into account not only the newly available information but also other important considerations such as their values, goals, perceived obligations, and existing assets.
In short, knowledge providers need to be problem solvers first, analysts second.
Read the full article about making your work seen by Ian David Moss at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.
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