The Shaping of Evaluation at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Published: January 2016

Type: Teaching Case

This teaching case tells the story of the evolution of the evaluation function at the Hewlett Foundation from 2000 to 2015.

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Teaching cases are factual stories of one foundation’s in-depth experiences related to evaluation and learning. Stories highlight important challenges that confront foundations in their evaluation work, and put readers in the role of decision makers who are confronted with problems and options for solutions as the story unfolds. This teaching case was produced for the Evaluation Roundtable, a network of evaluation and learning leaders in foundations.

 

When Paul Brest became president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in 2000, he embarked on a process to bring a more strategic and outcome-oriented focus to the organization and its grantmaking. Much of Brest’s focus was on creating a new expectation among staff that they think deeply about how they could use their grantmaking and their roles as grantmakers to make the greatest impact.

During the early years of Brest’s tenure, whether and how to do evaluations that examined strategic impact was largely left up to individual program officers and directors. At the same time, there was a strong interest in evaluation and in planting the seeds for a more formalized evaluation function that would come to fruition years later.

The arrival of Larry Kramer as the new president in 2012 impacted how Hewlett resourced and made use of evaluation. Also influential was Fay Twersky’s arrival first as a senior fellow and then as a director of the Effective Philanthropy Group (within which the evaluation function sits). Hewlett’s culture and changing dynamics in the field also played a critical role in shaping the evaluation function.

This teaching case study tells the story of the evolution of the evaluation function at the Hewlett Foundation from 2000 to 2015. It is as much the story of how one foundation’s culture shaped that evolution as it is how key leaders influenced the use of evaluation.