Day: May 16, 2019

Chronicle of Philanthropy: Research Can Perpetuate Inequity: New Guide Shows How to Change That

This article appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on May 16, 2019
By Michael Theis

A new guide for grant makers, community-focused nonprofits, and the researchers who study their efforts calls for a fresh approach to research. The power imbalance between grant makers and the smaller charities they support can result in research that fosters resentment and suspicion among the individuals they hope to help.

The guide, “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” comes from Chicago Beyond, a nonprofit that since its founding in 2016 has given more than $30 million to Chicago-area charities. Focused on advancing equity among minority communities in one of the most segregated cities in the nation, the group is a “startup-style philanthropy fund” that seeks to maximize its impact by funding smaller groups that hold promise, says founder and CEO Liz Dozier. It also runs some programs of its own.

Like many grant makers, Chicago Beyond seeks to inform its giving by gathering data and quantifying a nonprofit’s impact or the potential of programs it may support.

Dozier and her staff at Chicago Beyond realized their well-intentioned desire for data was met with skepticism by the subjects of that research. In their guide, they outline inequities they say exist among major grant makers, grantees, and the people nonprofits serve — and offer ways to minimize these.

For example, potential grantees, eager to receive a significant sum, are often asked to test different ways of delivering services before they get a grant from a foundation.

“Research, and what comes out of that, really drives dollars. It drives decisions that people make,” said Dozier. “But sometimes our nonprofit partners can’t afford a research study. It’s literally out of reach. Who can afford a … $600,000 research study to quote-unquote validate what you’re doing?”

And even if they could afford it, nonprofits would have to make tough decisions about which program participants are slotted into a control group versus the group receiving the experimental approach. What may start as a well-intentioned effort to validate a charity’s approach can end up hurting the communities it seeks to serve.

“There was a young man who literally wanted to be in an after-school program but didn’t sign up because he was in the control group for a research study, completely unrelated,” said Shruti Jayaraman, director of learning at Chicago Beyond. “He thought that by signing a paper saying ‘I’m in a control group’ that what he was signing his name to was saying, OK, I won’t get services anywhere.”

Jayaraman said that kind of unintended error is common enough that grant makers and charities need to be vigilant about preventing it.

“This is not just one kid. It’s many, many kids we know and many, many kids we don’t know,” said Jayaraman. “There’s a policy and decision-making impact that’s really big, and then there’s a very human impact.”

Other hazards that can occur when philanthropists shape research without input from community members: The wrong questions are asked, the data is gathered improperly, or the results are misinterpreted, Dozier says.

For instance, a study using data from police-operated gunshot detection systems, intended to quantify the impact of gun-violence prevention efforts, may falter due to decisions about where to place the detection equipment or an inability to discern who fired the shots or why.

In minority communities subject to more frequent police shootings and police surveillance, those factors matter, but the data can produce misleading conclusions.

“If you are in that community every day, whether you are a community member or a cop, the question comes back to you: Well, whose gun was it?” said Jayaraman. “If you’re not living there, that question doesn’t come to you.”

To guard against pitfalls like these, Chicago Beyond’s guidebook encourages donors and charities to engage the communities they hope to impact.

Oftentimes, that means pounding the pavement, identifying the most vulnerable people you want to research and inviting them not just to participate in the study but to participate in its design: determining which questions to ask and how to ask them, for example.

The authors also stress the importance of sharing the results of studies with members of the group that was examined.

“Evidence and research can end up being a crutch that works in service of inequity if we’re not conscious of it,” said Jayaraman. “The natural thing is to turn to evidence and to say, Let’s look for something evidence-based and that will guide us. But to the extent that you know of the inequities built into that evidence, you are just recreating the problem.”

For more on how to ensure research advances equity, see the full Chicago Beyond report here.

Chronicle of Philanthropy: 5 Steps Nonprofits Can Take to Make Research More Equitable

This article appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on May 16, 2019 

In the report “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” published by Chicago Beyond, the authors call for an “equity-based approach to research.” Since its founding in 2016, Chicago Beyond has given more than $30 million to mostly small Chicago-area charities. 

Here are five steps, adapted from that report, to help nonprofit researchers incorporate the views and experiences of those being studied, whose firsthand experience can often lead to better solutions.

The guidance is written for researchers but also applies to big grant makers, grant recipients, and nonprofits involved in the research.

The way a nonprofit approaches a problem depends on the institution, the kinds of research it uses, and the experience of the researchers.

It’s important to reflect individually or as a group on how biases can flow into the research but it’s also helpful to get the perspective of community members to help you shape the study and come up with the research questions.

Construct timelines with room to build trust among community members, solicit their input, and test the survey.

When the research is complete, think carefully about which numbers and stories you highlight.

Changing your approach to research requires a willingness to break old habits and an openness to new perspectives. Humanizing the research process enables you to find the right fit between purpose and research design.

Here are five ways to make research more equitable.

Build trust. Spend time in the community you will study. Share what motivates your research and what you hope to accomplish. Be willing to share your data as much as possible during the study and after it is published. For many nonprofit managers, the instinct, based on previous experience, is “never give data to someone I don’t really know.”

If you skip this step in the rush to meet a deadline, your results could be flawed.

Share your agenda. Explain how the work fits into your research agenda and discuss the other types of research you conduct. Talk about your intentions for the work and your research institution’s priorities.

Share your previous experiences. Stories from past research can help illustrate how you will work with members of the community and the nonprofits that serve them.

Set goals for the research. Determine a few statements to help your organization “fill in the blanks” at the end of the work, and outline what you hope to achieve in doing so. Not all programs have immediate benefits. Establish methods for determining the benefits your study may have over the long term.

Identify the target audience. Determine whom the study is intended for and which type of data and research design serve your purpose, while placing the least burden on the organization or its participants.

This checklist is adapted from “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” published by Chicago Beyond. Download the full report.

Watch: Moving From Charity to Justice at the Collective Impact Convening

On May 16, 2019, Chicago Beyond’s Founder & CEO Liz Dozier joined the Collective Impact Convening to share a keynote on “Moving from Charity to Justice.” So often, individuals and organizations aiming to do good fall into a trap of doing charity work where the social change work is happening to a community rather than with the community. When collaborations for impact approach the work with that traditional mindset, it can uphold existing power dynamics, structural barriers, and inequities. At the convening, Liz, a former high school principal, shared “how” to shift mindsets and actions from charity to justice work in our communities and introduced “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” as a tool to help guide action. Watch below!