Learning Together

Collaborative Inquiry among Grantmakers and Grantees


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Many grantmakers champion the idea of using evaluation to improve grantee effectiveness or advance a field of practice. It's a worthy endeavor, but how can you make it happen in the real world? This guide explores an increasingly popular method called "collaborative inquiry." Grantmakers define the practice, consider potential benefits and grapple with common challenges. A mini-case study shows how collaborative inquiry was used to support growth in a new field.

  • Creating learning partnerships among various players
  • Using collaborative inquiry to strengthen a field of work
  • Addressing power imbalances and divergent learning interests
  • Balancing the ideal and the real

As grantmakers, we want evaluation and assessment techniques that help document and analyze the work we support in ways that are meaningful to our foundations, grantees, and wider field or community. To help grantmakers weigh the advantages of different approaches, GrantCraft offers Evaluation Techniques: A Series of Brief Guides. Each guide explains the basics of one technique, answers common questions about its use, describes how some grantmakers are applying it and includes a list of resources for readers who want to learn more.


"We had to be open to critique and feedback, just like the rest of our partners; if [our foundation] didn't show that we were trying to get better, how could we expect anyone else to take the risk?"

— Funder of a collaborative inquiry process,
on the need for grantmakers to learn

"We stood the chance of being rejected by the practitioners because we were academics, and being marginalized by our peers because we had lost objectivity."

— A researcher, explaining the professional
risks of collaborative inquiry

"We learned that it's one thing to be committed to social change and youth organizing. It is another thing to be committed to a learning process that is by nature long-term, where mistakes are owned, beliefs challenged and sometimes changed, and flexibility and adaptability are paramount."

— Participant in a three-year learning network, which resulted
in better self-evaluation and organizational improvement

"Collaborative inquiry can get everyone thinking and doing. Funders, researchers, evaluators, and practitioners all have hypotheses. They can all gather data. They can all own an evaluation."

— A grantmaker, describing the promise
of collaborative inquiry