Kicking off the #Evidence4Equity Conversation

More than a year ago, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) convened a symposium titled Using Evidence to Advance More Equitable Outcomes for Children, Youth and FamiliesSupported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and hosted by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health, the symposium had two critical goals: (1) to explore the relationship between evidence and achieving more equitable outcomes, and (2) to lift up the value of recognizing often overlooked evidence necessary for advancing equity.

We hosted two provocative panels on evidence that matters as well as a series of lively table discussions. The first panel focused on the importance and validity of the voices and lived experience of the people most affected by “interventions.” Panelists included Jara Dean-Coffey, Shiree Teng, and Tatiana Warren-Jones—with CSSP’s Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Kristen Weber moderating the panel. These individuals are evaluators and strategic thinkers, who are developing and applying, both formally or informally, equitable evaluation approaches. They called into question the value and validity of research that does not include voice and lived experience in a meaningful way.

In the second panel, moderator Carla Taylor engaged Cheryl Grills, Tom Kelly, and Bill Wright in a conversation about the importance of examining the impact of structural and systemic roots of disparities. The conversations highlighted the vicious cycle of program creation and evaluation when root causes are not explored, documented, and addressed: good intentions become flawed from the very beginning. As evaluators, they acknowledged their responsibility to advocate and make room for others to speak by “shutting up” ourselves.

Anthony Bryk, resident of the Carnegie Foundation, closed out the symposium with reflections about how application of six core principles of improvement serve to advance equity.

Nearly all (92%) respondents to the post-symposium evaluation said they walked away with new insights about the relationship between evidence and achieving more equitable outcomes, and about 70 percent of the respondents had a clearer understanding of what kind of evidence is needed. More than half of the respondents (63%) had a clearer understanding of the ways to generate evidence needed in a more equitable manner.

Following the symposium, CSSP’s President Frank Farrow and I worked to respond to what we heard by learning and reflecting and searching out examples of approaches to rigorously generate the kind of evidence we said mattered. Shiree Teng challenged us to be authentic and direct about the challenges to this work derived from the historically dominant white culture. The result is the recently released, Placing Equity Concerns at the Center of Knowledge Development, a publication that explores three essential elements to generating and using knowledge that advance equity:

  1. Valuing and using the perspectives and knowledge of people most affected by the root causes of inequity and by the proposed solutions;
  2. Understanding and articulating the structural, systemic, cultural, and historical factors—slavery, systemic oppression, white supremacy, and privilege—that are root causes of inequities; and
  3. Focusing on the variations in impact of interventions—not just “what works” on average, for some individuals, somewhere—to discern what adaptations are needed to reduce disparities.

Over the next several months, we have invited evaluators, researchers, and foundation leaders to elaborate further on some of the issues raised by the paper and to share their reflections on how they are intentionally focusing on equity in knowledge development. Join us on the blog monthly for a new entry diving deeper into these issues and be sure to follow us online using #Evidence4Equity to keep the conversation going.