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How the Social Innovation Fund supports a culture of evaluation

This post was originally published here (Urban Wire)

The Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a federal program that funds community-based organizations by awarding grants to intermediary organizations, faces an uncertain fate. Even though leaders from both political parties agree on the need for greater efficiency within government-funded programs, many SIF supporters are waiting to hear how the new administration will leverage high-impact evidence-based programs like SIF in their upcoming budget proposal.

In its brief history, the SIF has been a model of evidence-based policymaking and has promoted a more expansive understanding of what it means to support programmatic evaluation. The SIF places a high priority on funding programs with substantial evidence of success and on rigorous evaluation to assess effectiveness. It has also recognized a long-standing complaint among nonprofit grantees—that they are often asked to bear the burden of evaluation with little assistance—and has emphasized how grantmakers can support and sustain grantees’ evaluation capacity.

This effort goes beyond providing funds for evaluations. It’s a broader commitment involving the creation of a culture of evaluation, which must be nourished throughout the entire evaluation process, from the earliest stages of planning to the dissemination of results. It also entails recognizing that grantees must continuously and consistently refine evaluation strategies.

Fortunately for the social sector, knowledge sharing is one of six key elements of the SIF program model. The SIF Knowledge Initiative, a hub for information about effective practices and lessons learned by grantees, recently published a report that describes how the SIF helps grantees and subgrantees build their evaluation capacity.

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Author: Nathan Dietz, Benjamin Soskis

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