In 2015, Darren Walker’s announcement of FordForward—including the vision for a $1 billion, 5-year commitment to a new program called BUILD—stood as a tall order to develop and deliver something great. Today, we see BUILD not only as a valuable approach to grantmaking at Ford, but as an important leverage point for strengthening the social justice infrastructure of institutions and networks more broadly.

Over the past two years, we have designed BUILD to provide multi-year general support, combined with dedicated funding for institutional strengthening. It includes a wraparound structure of non-grant support for training, convening, and cohort-building. So far, our program teams and regional offices have committed more than $637.5 million to 207 organizations around the globe. We anticipate making additional BUILD grants over the next two years to round out our total commitment.

The BUILD team knows that successful implementation of this initiative requires the confidence and collaboration of our colleagues throughout the foundation—from the executive leadership team to every program officer, from New Delhi to Nairobi to New York. We recognize that BUILD’s success also requires putting our grantee partners in the driver’s seat, ensuring that they are in charge of their direction and ultimate destination. And it will mean realizing our commitment to sharing the results we’re seeing, and what we’re learning.

Through our recently launched developmental evaluation, we will be exploring the difference BUILD is making—and how. Here are the top five things to know about the evaluation.

The evaluation will combine assessment and learning.

We want to assess how well BUILD achieves its goals, and learn what factors contribute to success in organizational strengthening. The evaluation will focus on questions like:

  • In what ways are organizations stronger and more resilient, more networked and more impactful?
  • How does this model of multi-year general support, together with institutional strengthening, contribute to amplifying and accelerating programmatic impact?

Our learning questions will include:

  • What is the relationship between institutional strengthening and programmatic impact?
  • What are the essential ingredients for success? What approaches to institutional strengthening yield the most growth? Is there optimal timing, or an ideal organizational stage, for the BUILD approach?

To be clear, this is an evaluation of the BUILD model. It is not an evaluation of specific grantees, program strategies, or teams. While it will examine progress made across the foundation and grantee organizations, the primary focus is on evidence of what worked and what didn’t work as well—and understanding why and how.

An external evaluation team will help us conduct the evaluation.

We chose an evaluation partner that has the right set of evaluation and research skills and experience, that is detached and independent, and that can work well with our teams: NIRAS, based in Sweden. While they will work closely with BUILD and program teams, our developmental evaluators are skilled in maintaining the distance required to provide constructive criticism. They have organized a core evaluation team from the US, Europe, and Kenya.

A developmental approach will drive the evaluation.

Developmental evaluation is an approach to assessment and learning that is that is well-suited to complex social change work. While traditional evaluation methods tend to emphasize measuring pre-determined and static goals and outcomes, developmental evaluation is flexible, enabling programs to track and understand outcomes as they emerge. By enabling us to provide feedback to programs quickly, the process enables ongoing learning and adaptation.

The process will be dynamic and participatory.

The BUILD evaluation is designed to be flexible, following where the data and learning take us, while also focusing on some core and common areas of impact.

The design and the implementation of the evaluation will reflect BUILD’s “grantee in the driver seat” principle. Indeed, it is the grantees who have the data and experience that will drive the learning and understanding of BUILD’s impact. To that end, some program staff and BUILD grantees will be involved in the design, production, and learning.

The evaluation’s phases will build on each other, with milestones along the way.

The first phase of the evaluation will last until early 2019, using interviews and other data collection to assess the design and initial implementation of BUILD. It will include data analysis, as well as information-gathering from Ford program teams, leadership, and BUILD grantees.

Following this initial analysis, the evaluative phase continues in cycles in subsequent years. This is where the comparative findings will begin to emerge. Learning will be explicit throughout: Our team envisions case studies, stories, and quantitative analysis that will further illuminate BUILD’s impact and learning.

With the Ford Foundation’s significant commitment to BUILD comes great responsibility! Stay tuned: We will share results and learning from the evaluation throughout the year.

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