Skip to content


Data for Equity: Moving from Theory to Practice

Testing a new approach to evaluation


In 2022, St. David’s Foundation’s Learning and Evaluation team assembled and organized the Data for Equity Learning Cohort. We are grateful for the efforts put forth and inspired by the learning shared throughout the year-long initiative. We invite the philanthropic community to reflect on what practicing and funding equitable evaluation could mean for the advancement of health and racial equity in Central Texas and beyond.

At the Foundation, we know that shifts in practice follow shifts in thinking. Our team and many of our peers and colleagues in the evaluation community have been reflecting on equitable evaluation and its implications. In September 2021, we decided to take the leap from theory to practice with the launch of the Data for Equity RFP. We are delighted to have the opportunity to share our progress – and missteps – with the funder community so that we can learn together.  

Our Motivation

We are grounded in the belief that health equity is both a process and an outcome. As an outcome, health equity is achieved when all Central Texans have a fair chance to achieve optimal health and there are no longer predictable differences in health status due to ethnicity, race, age, ability, or geography. Using this definition of health equity requires us to examine the impact of inequitable systems when we are measuring outcomes and monitoring progress. As a process, equity means involving those most impacted by health inequities, including in our evaluation and learning efforts to enhance future outcomes. This commitment encourages us to examine traditional evaluation methods and acknowledge when we should depart from practices that center the Foundation’s voice in favor of the community’s 

Our Inspiration

We are certainly not the first in philanthropy to shift our thinking around evaluation. We were heavily inspired by the Equitable Evaluation Initiative’s (EEI) Equitable Evaluation Framework, that suggests equitable evaluation move beyond a checklist mentality. Rather, the Framework invites a new orientation to the work. Our team was also motivated by the innovation of a local group and grant partner, Measure, and their CARE Model which is a framework for evaluation that centers on community and justice (read more here). We engaged the Measure team as a consultant in the design of the RFP, to lead the first of four learning collaborative sessions, and to provide technical assistance to grant recipients as they began their projects. 

Our Experience

The Data for Equity initiative was a practice of checking our assumptions, sharing power, and leaning into unlearning every step of the way. Two of the ways in which we incorporated equity into the process were reflected in the design of the RFP application process and how we developed the learning community sessions.  

A trust-based and co-designed approach

Eager to center equity from the start of the RFP process, we began by implementing trust-based and equity-centered practices within the application phase.  

We tested tools and processes that are new to the Foundation to foster a more equitable application and review process, such as:  

  • Offering grant writing support services to applicants; 
  • Accepting multimedia (video and audio) submissions as part of the application for the first time; and 
  • Engaging external, community-based reviewers to score and help select the final cohort of awardees.  
Opportunities for shared (un-)learning

For the ten grantees in the Data for Equity cohort, we hosted four learning collaborative sessions throughout the year. After the first session, at which Measure representatives shared their model as an example of operationalizing the principles of equitable evaluation, we strived to co-create the collective learning space with input from attendees and guidance from a design team of cohort volunteers. 

Based on the feedback from the first session’s attendees, we focused the second session on the topic of authentic, transformational community engagement. Together we considered what the participants could gain from being a part of an evaluation, including but not limited to, the amount of financial compensation and other resources (e.g., travel, food, and childcare support) provided to participants in the studies. Beyond compensation, we discussed concepts and questions around how to engage the community, for example,

One challenge we face is that we want to compensate folks for their time and energy, and we should do that. But, as this becomes a common tool used in community engagement, it’s starting to feel transactional and not transformational. How do we honor people’s contributions and still engage in a way that is transformational? – Choquette, Founder, The RISE Center for Liberation

We heard different approaches and solutions to these questions including building more transformational and authentic relationships through transparency around research goals and increasing the power and level of involvement the community would have in decision-making around program or organization-level changes.  

We continued to explore the methods of practicing equitable evaluation in the third session with a focus on data storytelling and lifting community voice and experience as an important and valid source of data. We talked about the role of evaluators as listeners and shepherds of their clients’ and communities’ stories and how, as equity-focused evaluators, we carry the responsibility to preserve the integrity of those stories and avoid the risks of exploiting the lived experience of those who we are aiming to serve. To address this challenge, groups offered ways to share power by making the data available for the community, creating space for individual meaning-making, and facilitating opportunities for clients to tell their own stories.  

When the cohort leaders came together for the fourth and final session in December, we reflected and celebrated the milestones completed over the year. The stories and insights were captured by a visual scribe in a vibrant illustration:

As highlighted in the visual, there were many accomplishments, including: new data systems, evaluation participants were paid fairly, and in the spirit of transparency, the data was shared back with the community. Changes went beyond evaluation activities. We heard from partners about how shifting to equitable evaluation practices impacted their reach, mission, and orientation toward equity: 

  • Through their collaborative project, Out YouthBlack Trans Leadership of Austin (BTLA), and UT Austin, sought to ‘create a research project that would honor and uplift their community.’ They designed, disseminated, and activated the findings from their queer and trans-BIPOC needs assessment to secure new programmatic funding.  
  • The Lifeworks team started with a focus on engaging their clients in the revision of their outcome measures. The results of their work inspired them to integrate their clients’ priority outcomes of ‘stability’ and ‘self-defined goals’ into their organization’s new mission statement. 
  • Latinitas found that after engaging with students to redesign surveys, their program no longer needed to be predicated on serving Latina girls, but rather on creating a space for all minority youth that has now led to conversations among their leadership about their core audience and program model.  

Our Learning

As we spent time with our partners reflecting on what it takes to practice equitable evaluation, we heard and acknowledge the call to action for funders like us to invest more timetrust, and funds in this type of evaluation.  

Additionally, as evaluators ourselves, our own thinking evolved over the course of the year-long initiative, and we are committed to shifting our evaluation practices by:   

  • Engaging community throughout the evaluation process from design to sensemaking and dissemination This may mean convening community stakeholders to, for example, inform evaluation methodology and architect the research dissemination and activation plans.  
  • Naming the underlying systems that lead to inequities when we see them in the data We know systems do not impact each community member the same. To be able to see the inequities we are committed to disaggregating data by race/ethnicity, gender, and other relevant characteristics in our evaluations.  
  • Recognizing that traditional research and evaluation practices can devalue lived experience as less rigorous and, in effect, further marginalize the voices of those being harmed by inequities. We will reassess our own evaluation tools and processes and adjust them to lift up community voice as an equally rigorous, vital source of data for learning. 

Looking Ahead

Through the Data for Equity initiative, we took the leap from thinking to practice. We are grateful for the willingness of this cohort to experiment and innovate alongside us. By sharing our experience with the broader community, we hope more funders are inspired to take action. We look forward to continuing the learning journey and rethinking how evaluation can be used as a tool to advance health equity. 

If you work at an equity-focused and community-centered philanthropic organization and would like to take lessons from this initiative and apply them to your communities, we would be happy to connect (email us at [email protected]).  

To explore the organizations and projects funded through the 2022 Data for Equity Cohort: Click here 

Meet our Contributors


Annie Henson, MPAff, MPH

Evaluation Officer


Jesse Simmons, MS

Senior Evaluation Officer


Ellie Haggerty Coplin, MPH

Director of Learning and Evaluation