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More foundations are embracing systems change as a component of their strategy. As a result, there is a growing desire in major philanthropic circles to evaluate the effects of investments aimed at creating system-level change such as research, policy advocacy, networking, and more. These “ecosystem investments” often reflect long-term, multi-stakeholder strategies that seek to influence specific stakeholder groups who are in position to catalyze systems change: policymakers, high net-worth individuals, business leaders, and entrepreneurs, to name a few.

Literature on how to measure and evaluate ecosystems investments is vast, yet disconnected. Many researchers have written about evaluating collaboration, research, and convening activities, and there is a burgeoning literature on evaluating policy advocacy. Yet, there is a lack of understanding around the underlying principles that make an effective evaluation for these ecosystem strategies.

In partnership with Omidyar Network, FSG has identified 5 effective practices in evaluating ecosystem investments and highlights examples of these practices in action.

Top Takeaways

  1. When identifying a hypothesis for change, it is important to also identify competing or alternate hypotheses in order to learn and refine your strategy over time.

  2. Be intentional about identifying and tracking interim outcomes from the outset. Focusing on the long-term effects of ecosystem approaches is problematic because change often happens in an unpredictable timeframe. As a result, such data does not provide insight into what strategic or tactical shifts may be needed along the way to achieve the long-term impact.

  3. Identify and use methods that incorporate multiple perspectives about the changes that are happening and why in order to learn from them. Helpful tools include network mapping, bellwether interviews, and others.

Practitioners need to be able to sense, learn, and adapt strategies to achieve their goals.