As a foundation committed to improving the health of Coloradans, it's important that we understand and share how we're making a difference. Learning and evaluation is a way to inform and improve our work and help others understand our approaches.
Why is the Colorado Health Foundation committed to learning and evaluation?
In short: Because it’s absolutely critical to improving the health of Coloradans.
Learning and evaluation have always been central to our practice, because we believe they have the potential to help us be better at our work. Learning and evaluation help us hold ourselves accountable to the communities we exist to serve – always asking the questions of whether we’re living into our values, whether the assumptions we have hold true, and whether we’re helping communities move the needle on issues of health that are important to them.
We believe that learning is core to strategy, and evaluation is one way we gather data to inform our learning. Our learning and evaluation work helps us:
- Do better planning. Lessons and evidence from our past and current work are used to inform our decisions about what will be the most effective path forward.
- Carry the work out well. Continuous learning and improvement throughout the lifecycle of our work allows us to assess what is happening, learn from it, and make changes that will help us meet the needs of communities and have the greatest impact.
- Understand impact. We assess the extent to which our work is helping communities make progress towards improved health equity in Colorado.
A Model for Excellence
In order to ensure our investments are effectively working toward our mission, our evaluation model incorporates four major components:
- Providing evidence that helps us answer operational and strategic questions
- Synthesizing the evidence to learn about how we can improve
- Using what we’ve learned to inform our decisions and make course corrections as needed
- Assessing the impact of our work on contributing to the improved health of Coloradans
Evaluation can take many different forms and employ many different methods and measurement strategies. Some questions are best addressed through simple monitoring data, while other questions require more in-depth evaluation. There are also many different types of questions that we may want to ask.
Because of this, every evaluation project looks different, depending on the questions we are trying to answer.
As we learn from our work, we believe that we should be sharing learnings with our grantees, our partners and other philanthropies. We are always looking for effective ways to communicate what we are learning in a way that will be useful for all our partners.
Our Work is Centered in Equity
Since 2017, the Learning & Evaluation department has turned the mirror on our own practices of evaluation as we try and better align our work with principles of equity. We have been deeply informed by the work of the Equitable Evaluation Initiative (EEI), which is a five-year endeavor that is building a field of practice around the Equitable Evaluation Framework™ (EEF™), with a specific focus on philanthropic evaluation.
The EEF provided both a starting point and scaffold for our team in thinking about how to shift our own practices to align with principles of equity. It’s an invitation to develop a different relationship with evaluation – to change the way we are being, thinking and doing. In practice, the EEF challenges evaluators to constantly question things like the who, what and why of evaluation:
- Who gets to make choices about this evaluation? Who is making meaning and drawing conclusions about the data?
- What is the focus of the evaluation? Which perspectives are prioritized and which are missing?
- Why are we answering this set of questions? Why are we choosing this particular methodology?
As we discover better ways to center equity in our work, we continue to engage in an ongoing process of both learning and unlearning.
More About How We Think and Practice
The following blog posts, articles and case studies provide a view into how our Learning & Evaluation team thinks and practices:
- Transforming Our Evaluation Practice: Examples and Case Studies (2021) – Specific ways in which we’ve been evolving – in our evaluation practice at the Foundation and in our shared practice with evaluation partners (includes case studies from three of our partners).
- Learning and Unlearning: Centering Equity in Our Evaluation Practice (2020) – How we’re working to center equity in our work, both in our thinking and practice.
- Asking the Right Questions: A Tool for Initiative Planning and Adaptation (2020) – A framework that emerged from our collaboration with the Center for the Study of Social Policy around what counts as credible evidence, and how to think about rigorous evidence in the practice of creating and implementing strategy.
- Weaving DEI Into a Foundation’s Everyday Work (2020) – How three departments at the Foundation are living into principles of equity.
- A Shift Toward Equitable Evaluation Means Starting Small (2019) – Examples from our early practice of embedding equity into our evaluation work.
- Building Principle-Based Strategic Learning: Insights From Practice (2019) – How we think about and practice strategic learning at the Foundation (written in collaboration with peer foundations).
- When Opportunity Knocks, Open the Door: Evaluation Amidst Transition at The Colorado Health Foundation (2019) – A teaching case study that was invited by the Evaluation Roundtable, and used as the basis of their 2019 gathering. A detailed, honest sharing of themes and tensions related to the work of the Foundation’s Learning & Evaluation team, and the team’s evolution within the context of an organization that is also intentionally changing.