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Strategic Learning, Research & Evaluation

We build a culture of learning across Kresge and support community learning priorities

Strategic Learning, Research and Evaluation invites curiosity about what it takes to realize the ideals of our mission and values. We bring an equity lens to all evaluative thinking. We seek and hold a line of sight from data to insights to actions, with the intent to advance equitable processes and outcomes in and for communities in which the foundation invests. Our work includes evaluation, strategic learning in partnership with grantmakers, and equity-focused organizational learning. Our approach speaks to a dual focus on learning and accountability to the partners and communities we seek to serve.

Growing our Knowledge Endowment

Established in 2015, Kresge’s strategic learning, research and evaluation practice was charged with growing our “knowledge endowment” – to codify what we are learning about our funding by drawing on the full suite of philanthropic tools, including evaluation and thought leadership – to advance urban opportunity and to enliven our values. We have an enduring commitment to transparency and to orienting our efforts toward greater ownership among our nonprofit partners and communities.

Each of our funding strategies is guided by a racial equity lens and complemented with a theory of change and strategic learning questions. Our learning and evaluation team works in partnership with our programmatic staff to advance the goals of our grantmaking and social investment strategies.

Learning and Unlearning Together

We match our evaluative approaches with the goals of our grantmaking strategies. We often need to learn – and unlearn – in real-time so that we can act with the urgency that our strategies demand. Our approach is rigorous – we seek to understand deeply the context in which work is happening – and bring a mixed-methods approach. Our efforts include developmental, formative and summative evaluation.

Inviting Experts in Equal Measure

We believe in the power of convening and communities of practice to connect learning with action. Within Kresge, this includes developing and facilitating staff and team retreats, hosting regular departmental forums and stewarding organization-wide equity change efforts. With our nonprofit partners and philanthropic peers, we join in communities of practice and partner on the design and delivery of learning meetings and events. We invite experts in equal measure among all participants, because we know that insights and innovation come in many forms and from many voices.

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Spotlight: What We’re Learning

Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit (KIP:D) Evaluation Provides Wisdom for Community Partners, Community Development Sector and Peer Funders

APRIl 28, 2021

The report, “A Retrospective Look at Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit,” provides an overview from an independent evaluation conducted by the University of Michigan School of Social Work’s Program Evaluation Group of Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit (KIP:D) – an initiative of Kresge’s Detroit Program. Launched in 2014, KIP:D supports and spurs on transformative projects that tap into the vision and creativity of Detroiters to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods. The KIP:D evaluation set out to understand the collective impact of transformational projects stewarded by neighborhood organizations. Findings from the evaluation point to community wisdom and lessons for future program applicants, as well as lift up challenges that partners faced throughout the projects. The report provides recommendations to Kresge to better support future partners and the evolution of their projects. In addition to the report, the University of Michigan’s Program Evaluation Group developed three briefs to highlight lessons for community partners, the community development sector and philanthropic peers:

Findings from a Multi-year Evaluation of the National Fresh, Local and Equitable Initiative

September 24, 2020

In the report “Cultivating Community Across the Country,” social sector consulting group Learning for Action shares the findings from its independent evaluation of The Kresge Foundation’s Fresh, Local & Equitable (FreshLo) initiative. FreshLo is a grantmaking initiative that seeks to improve access to healthy food, ignite entrepreneurship, spur economic development and integrate arts, culture and community-engaged design to spark neighborhood revitalization in cities around the country. The initiative builds on and enhances existing community assets and strengths and uplifts community leaders to ensure that development is led by and for its residents. Since its launch in 2015, FreshLo has provided $8.4 million in grant funding, as well as technical assistance and learning opportunities, to 23 organizations from around the country. FreshLo offers lessons not only about how philanthropy can support neighborhood revitalization by combining food-oriented development and Creative Placemaking – FreshLo lessons also point to how philanthropy can do work that meets this historical moment.

Evaluation of Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative Provides Lessons Learned for Field and Local Level

December 10, 2019

This report outlines the key insights and lessons from the outcome evaluation phase of the Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity (CRUO) initiative. The evaluation explored the local and field-level impact of the strategy, as well as how the decisions made by Kresge about the initiative contributed to the broader impact of CRUO. Launched in 2014, Kresge’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity (CRUO) initiative was a five-year, $29 million effort designed to strengthen the capacity of community-based non-profit organizations to influence local and regional climate-resilience planning, policy development and implementation to better reflect the priorities and needs of low-income urban communities in U.S. cities. Ending in 2019, the initiative also sought to strengthen the field by supporting new equity-centered methodologies and approaches to climate-resilience policy and planning. CRUO supported a cohort of 15 nonprofit organizations from across the U.S. in nine states.

Collaborating Within to Support Systems Change: The Need For — and Limits of — Cross-Team Grantmaking” (in The Foundation Review)

March 31, 2020

The article highlights findings from a recent evaluation of Kresge’s cross-team grantmaking –co-authored by Senior Fellow Chris Kabel and Strategic Learning and Evaluation Officer Anna Cruz from The Kresge Foundation in partnership with AnnJanette Rosga, Theresa Esparrago Lieu and Natalie Blackmur of Informing Change, a strategic learning firm that conducted an evaluation of Kresge’s cross-team grantmaking. The article discusses the findings of the evaluation, which demonstrate how Kresge works with great intentionality at the intersection of its seven grantmaking areas, awarding so-called “cross-team grants.” These grants involve financial and intellectual contributions from multiple Kresge programs in order to foster multidisciplinary work among grantees. While grantees appreciate this approach, the foundation’s cross-team grantmaking is often challenged by the need to show short-term impact when in reality the multidisciplinary grants are tackling complex systems change, whose outcomes are not easily and quickly measured. Philanthropy itself may need to rethink how it works internally to support cross-sector systems change over the long-term.

Philanthropy with a Racial Equity Lens

June 20, 2019

Kresge’s Strategic Learning, Research and Evaluation Director Anna Cruz published a blog with the Center for Effective Philanthropy about advancing racial equity in philanthropy. The piece highlights the importance of personal transformation and leading from where you are to bring equity into every aspect of foundation work.

How to Push DEI Conversations Out of the Comfort Zone

May 28, 2019

Reid published an article with Jara Dean-Coffey in the Stanford Social Innovation Review about discovering and running with your learning edge – the place where we are stretched out of our comfort zones and where true transformation happens – to advance racial equity. Check out the four practices for pushing diversity, equity and inclusion conversations out of the comfort zone.

Building Principle-Based Strategic Learning: Insights From Practice

March 2019

Kresge’s former Director of Strategic Learning, Research and Evaluation Chera Reid co-authored an article in Foundation Review about principle-based strategic learning. The piece offers three principles for strategic learning based on insights from across three foundations. The meaning and importance of each principle are explored, alongside real-world examples of how the principles play out. Sensitivity to the unique culture and context of each organization is also explored.