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Making a House a Home: Irvine’s Evaluation and Learning Journey

We are in a moment in time for philanthropy to think and act differently. The sector’s greater openness to change provides an opportunity for foundations to be more explicit about how we use our roles to advance equity. This includes how we use evaluation and learning to connect authentically with the communities we serve and infuse equity into all aspects of our work.  

As I have been reflecting on evaluation and learning (E&L) at Irvine, where we are and where we need to go, I see many parallels to building a house. In Making A House A Home: Reflections On One Foundation’s Evaluation And Learning Journey, I describe each of the phases of building our E&L house, explain how and why we built the house the way we did, the context in which we did this work, and lessons I’ve learned along the way.  

This case study complements two companion pieces published by Engage R&D in partnership with Irvine, the Kresge Foundation, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation: 

I was excited to partner on these efforts due to the dearth of resources on this topic and the influx of new E&L practitioners, particularly those who come from non-philanthropy backgrounds and haven’t yet had the opportunity to build relationships with others in the philanthropic field. My network of colleagues in this space who offered their own experience and learning to help guide me on my journey as an E&L practitioner at Irvine have been invaluable to me. However, not everyone has access to these kinds of peer networks, so these guides fill a real need for peer-learning conversations to go beyond a small number of well-connected practitioners to providing more support and guidance to more people.  

Throughout the entire effort to build, and now renovate, Irvine’s E&L house, my team and I have also looked to the Equitable Evaluation Initiative’s Equitable Evaluation Framework for guidance and inspiration; we deeply believe that learning and evaluation should be in the service of equity.

It has been an exciting, challenging, rewarding, and humbling journey in my role as Director of Impact Assessment and Learning as I have partnered with my Irvine colleagues, including our board and staff, as well as grantee and evaluation partners, to support and advance evaluation and learning at the Foundation.  

I hope my own reflections on this journey, along with the examples and learnings shared in the Field Guide and CEO companion piece, will help E&L leaders, Foundation CEOs, and others who work in and with philanthropy navigate their own roles as they use learning and evaluation to advance impact and equity in support of the people and communities they serve.   


Photo credit: Samanta Helou Hernandez