At the Moore Foundation, we make grants with a primary focus on projects, institutions, or people. Although people are vital to all the work we do, the foundation uses person-centered awards to pursue field building, career advancement, and discovery, analysis, and invention. Within our strategic grantmaking, these awards often take the form of investigator awards and fellowships.
Since the beginning of the foundation, person-centered awards have been a key grantmaking tool and have helped to bolster our initiative-scale grantmaking as well as standalone projects. Adaptive management is a key practice in all our grantmaking, and we recently undertook an effort to investigate promising approaches to evaluate and strengthen the outcomes and impact of person-centered awards.
We sought to learn more about how these types of award programs are developed, implemented, and evaluated along with when person-centered awards are most effective in achieving strategic goals. As we aimed to better understand more about these awards at the Moore Foundation, it became clear that we also had much to learn from other grantmaking organizations who pursue this type of person-centered grantmaking.
To expand our understanding of promising practices for person-centered awards, we partnered with Mary Byrne McDonnell, Ph.D., of MBM Learning and Evaluation Strategies, and Ben Kerman, Ph.D., of Ben Kerman Consulting to survey twenty peer funding organizations and conduct an extensive literature review for a cross-field exploration of these topics. Their research and analysis aimed to not only identify promising practices but also the conditions of success and challenges of person-centered award grantmaking, implementation, and evaluation.
The Person-Centered Awards Landscaping Project Report builds on thoughtful interviews with these organizations and with staff at the Moore Foundation who implement person-centered awards. Drs. McDonnell and Kerman were able to synthesize and identify key impactful and promising approaches to strengthening and evaluating the outcomes and impact of person-centered awards, including conditions that optimize success such as:
- Theory of change. Ensure that the development phase begins with clarity on vision, purposes, values, and goals, and that program activities and expected outcomes are well matched to reflect the vision and achieve the goals.
- Fit to purpose. Align desired characteristics of applicants for a particular person-centered award and grantee selection with the program goals and design.
- Assess progress and impact. Reflect on and evaluate the awards to understand which outcome and goals are being achieved and why or why not. This has direct implications for operationalizing and improving the program and demonstrating its value.
- Efficient and effective implementation. Develop the right organizing structures, staffing and collaborative practices to deliver program activities and enable reflection, learning, and application of learning to improvement.
Beyond these promising practices that optimize the likelihood of success, the report also contains many useful insights and includes considerations for future thought as organizations continue to develop, manage, and evaluate person-centered awards as part of their grantmaking portfolios, including:
- Strategies that support evaluative efforts, such as strong alumni networks, consistent data practices, and specialized evaluative tools.
- Practices in recruitment, selection, and creating cohorts, and resources for broadening participation.
- Supportive infrastructure and communities of practice to learn from and with similar programs.
We are grateful to Mary McDonnell and Ben Kerman for their partnership on this project, to the interviewees at our peer foundations, and to Moore Foundation staff for their contributions.
Susan Song is a former program officer for the Patient Care Program and Jennifer Ryan is a program officer for foundation special projects.