E is For Evidence. But Just How Much?

The Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) recently published a brief, but insightful article offering a new approach for gathering credible evidence to prove that a specific strategy, initiative, or theory of change actually works.

You can (and probably shouldread the full post. But here’s a summary:

  • Philanthropists and social innovators rely on evidence to create sustainable, real-world solutions. The problem, argues SSIR‘s Katherina Rosquetta, is “evidence” comes in different forms and doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone.
  • That form of evidence can look like the results from a scientific study, anecdotal observations from ground-floor program implementers and beneficiaries, or insights from policy makers with a wide perspective to effectively evaluate results and real-world observations.
  • Each form of evidence has strengths and weaknesses. Rosquetta proposes philanthropists and social innovators should seek evidence from all three sources to determine if the evidence leads to the same implications. If all three are pointing in the same direction, it’s a higher likelihood the initiative or change works.
©Stanford Social Innovation Review

©Stanford Social Innovation Review

This approach might seem obvious – but it’s not. Confusion exists between both funders and nonprofits about which source of evidence predicts or acknowledges success most accurately.

Takeaways to consider:

  • Don’t settle for one source of evidence. The more you gather from varying perspectives, the stronger your ability to evaluate the effective of your approach.
  • Take a broader picture. Once you’ve gathered multiple types of evidence, step back and look for areas within the data that tells the same story.
  • Remember that the people and communities being served from your initiatives ultimately have the final say about the impact these programs have.

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