Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning

A new approach to monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL)

At the Equality Fund, our vision of shifting meaningful resources—and power—to feminist movements demands that we disrupt and transform traditional approaches to everything we do, from philanthropy and grantmaking to investing and operations. 

This also applies to the many ways that we monitor progress, evaluate successes and failures, and understand the impact we and our partners are creating in the world. Monitoring and evaluation are essential to shared learning, growth, and impact. In the past, however, these practices have often replicated unhealthy power dynamics—reinforcing a harmful, inaccurate, and top-down view of how social change works. Traditional “donor knows best” approaches forfeit the true potential of monitoring and evaluation to shift power and build durable knowledge for lasting change. Ultimately, they would also limit the ability of the Equality Fund to evaluate our own progress, hold ourselves accountable to feminist movements, and make improvements as we grow together. We believe that a more holistic approach is not only possible, but essential to realizing our values and vision

With feminist principles at the centre 

The Equality Fund is strongly committed to integrating a feminist approach to the ways in which we track, evaluate, and understand the impact of our grantmaking and shared work. In practice, this means that: 

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We acknowledge power

We acknowledge power by recognizing that evaluation is a political activity, and that there are multiple ways of “knowing.” We acknowledge diverse views and experiences, with the goal of understanding the structural and systemic power relationships affecting diverse women, girls, and non-binary people. We focus on narrative explanations of key issues and challenges, and we conduct thematic, qualitative analysis to better understand how change in gender equality actually happens.

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We focus on agency

We focus on agency by working with grantee partners so that monitoring and evaluation are useful to them, owned by them, and are not experienced only as an accountability exercise. We explore participatory and interactive approaches to our learning activities, with grantee partners as the drivers. We strive to ensure that reports are not overly burdensome and provide a space for reflection and growth.

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We understand that change is non-linear and complex

We understand that change is non-linear and complex: In the struggle for women’s rights, progress is often one step forward and two steps back, or maybe a step to the side. Change is complex and non-linear. We understand that transformational gender equality change requires different change at multiple levels—individual and systemic, formal and informal. We track change in five domains: awareness and agency; social norms and practices; access to resources, services and power; laws and policies; and movement building. We believe that collective, transformative change requires investments and positive change in all five areas over time.

Key Principles of a Feminist Approach to Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning

Source: Carol Miller, Gender at Work

1. Design and Use for Social Change

Organizations working across feminist movements do many different things, but all of their activities are centred on one goal: securing lasting social change. We believe that monitoring and evaluation should be no exception. All of our processes, from deciding what data to collect to determining what questions to ask, are guided by this same fundamental question: How will this advance a bold agenda for deep social change? 

2. Shifting Power to Participants

We believe it is essential for our grantee partners to be engaged from the very start—whether in defining evaluation or research questions, identifying how to collect data, deciding who collects it, or determining how this data will be used.

3. Value Women and Experts and Knowledge Holders

Every day across the world, women bear the brunt of so many of our biggest global crises, from climate change and poverty to inequality and injustice. Accordingly, our approach recognizes, values, and centres their essential knowledge and expertise in solving these challenges.

4. Honour Diversity and Context

Our monitoring and evaluation work is grounded in a deeply intersectional approach. We are conscious about how race, class, ethnicity, sexual identity, immigration status, disability, and many other aspects of our identities affect different women in different ways—and we actively account for this across our processes.

5. Reframe the Role of the Evaluator

We challenge the very notion that evaluators are ‘objective neutral experts’. We are aware of our own biases, values, and power imbalances. We believe that the most effective evaluators act as partners, facilitators, and co-learners. 

What does it mean to evaluate impact through a feminist lens? 

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Centring women, girls, and non-binary people

Centring women, girls and non-binary people and their lived realities in all MEL work, and paying attention to gender and power dynamics;

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Applying feminist perspectives

Applying feminist perspectives to understanding the challenges we seek to address and valuing women as experts and knowledge holders; 

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Shifting power

Shifting power: where possible, using participatory approaches throughout our decision making and learning processes; 

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Reducing reporting burden

Reducing reporting burden and not being extractive. Focus reporting on learning rather than just accountability requirements.

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