The Social Innovation Fund (SIF), is a federal tiered evidence initiative that received funding from 2010 to 2016. The key objectives of the initiative were to invest in:
- Promising interventions that address social and community challenges and grow their impact.
- Evaluation and capacity building in order to support the development and use of rigorous evidence to measure the effectiveness of each funded intervention (i.e., to “move the evidence needle”) and inform decision making.
All federal initiatives have some form of embedded evaluation technical assistance (ETA) component in order to make them operational. AmeriCorps developed a comprehensive ETA program organized around a flexible coaching model that included individual consultation and customized resource development. The ETA program activities were tied to the evaluation planning, implementation, monitoring, and reporting expectations and requirements of the SIF. Empirical evidence of the SIF ETA’s effectiveness is found in three sources as follows:
- Findings from the SIF National Assessment which provides rigorous evidence that the program was successful in building the evaluation capacity and practices of participating organizations,
- Caliber of the evaluation designs implemented by SIF grantees, and
- Credibility of the positive and causal findings obtained through successful implementation of these evaluation designs.
The purpose of this article is to discuss the structure and key features of the SIF as a grant making model, its evaluation requirements, its embedded approach and process for evaluation capacity building (ECB), and the delivery of the ETA. It also discusses the tools and resources that ETA generated to support its goals, the evidence supporting its success, and how those lessons can inform other organizations and initiatives.
This discussion is organized in two sections:
- Early Challenges and Opportunities
- AmeriCorps’ operationalization of the ETA program and its requirements experienced a number of early challenges. These challenges required adjustments and in many ways informed the development of the ETA program.
- Lessons Learned From the SIF ETA Program
- Leadership prioritization.
- Trusting relationships.
- Timing matters.
- Customized coaching models.
- Dedicated resources.
- Progress measurement and a strong feedback loop are important for continuous program improvement and achieving the intended goals of ETA.
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