About the Event

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Convening Overview

The evidence is now clear. When it comes to improving the wellbeing of people and communities, place matters.  That is why foundations, nonprofits, and their public and private partners have worked together on hundreds place-based initiatives across the country in recent years.

This work has had successes and challenges, and it is highly dynamic. Many partners involved in these efforts are increasingly asking: How we can advance our work on this front—and how can we use tools of evaluation and learning to improve place-based initiatives?

The Art and Science of Place-Based Evaluation took place on October 5 and 6 in San Diego and took a deep dive into these questions. Unlike conventional conferences, which often keep attendees watching from a distance, this two-day event invited everyone to contribute their knowledge and ask questions about evaluating place-based community change efforts.

Goals of the Convening

Funders, evaluators, and community representatives convened to learn about evaluating the complex, multi-level, cross-system place-based approaches from peers working in communities across the country.

Through targeted conversations participants did the following:

  1. Shared effective, innovative learning practices for dynamic, complex environments
  2. Identified appropriate questions and metrics at different developmental stages of place-based initiatives
  3. Explored evaluation’s role in the power dynamics of place

“The Art and Science of Place-Based Evaluation”  builds on two prior events hosted by the Aspen Institute (“Towards a Better Place”) and the University of Southern California (“Prioritizing Place”) to provide a deeper, targeted discussion about how to use evaluation to improve understanding of place to accelerate change.

The results of this convening will be curated into a central portal, designed to extend the lessons learned from GEO’s Place-Based Evaluation Community of Practice. This convening, and its resulting Community of Practice, will ensure an ongoing dialogue for continued learning on place-based evaluation’s role in affecting positive change.

Not Your Conventional Convening

The convening was grounded in the three developmental stages of a place-based initiative:

  • Early – Planning, assessment and creating a strong foundation
  • Implementation – Ongoing learning and course correction
  • Sustaining – Maintaining momentum and assessing results

Attendees actively participated in moderated workshops to identify successes, challenges, and emerging solutions for developing a place-based learning agenda for increased impact. The central activity of the conference were workshops that focus on key topics in each developmental stage.

Stage of Development Workshop Sessions

Early Stage:
  1. Getting ready and developing a learning agenda
  2. Supporting community engagement
  3. Building capacity for implementation

Implementation Stage:
  1. Strengthening leadership and governance structures
  2. Strengthening collaboration &  cross-sector engagement
  3. Assessing progress and supporting a learning culture

Sustaining Stage:
  1. Managing change and transitions
  2. Supporting sustainability efforts
  3. Connecting community change to systems change

Workshop Format 

  • Workshops began with a quick “Spark” presentation by teams from a place-based project sharing their insights and lessons learned within a stage of development
  • Participants worked in small groups to address key questions for each topic
  • Workshops concluded with larger group report outs to identify common themes related to methods, metrics, and approaches


View the convening agenda here.

Outcomes of the Convening

The following were the desired outcomes for participants of the convening:

  • Connect with funders, evaluators, and community members from around the country working on place-based initiatives
  • Learn about metrics, methods, and learning approaches for place-based projects at different stages of development
  • Identify common themes to be further explored through the Place-Based Evaluation Portal (an extension and expansion of the GEO Community of Practice work)
  • Identify next steps and opportunities to continue a national conversation on place-based evaluation and learning

Background Materials

The following materials were made available prior to the convening:

A Special Thanks to the Convening Advisory Committee

To guide the development of this convening, Aspen Institute, Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, and Neighborhood Funders Group created an Advisory Committee. A special thanks to these partners

  • Reginald Jones, Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation (partner convener)
  • Sheri Brady, Aspen Forum for Community Solutions (partner convener)
  • Steve Patrick, Aspen Forum for Community Solutions (partner convener)
  • Dennis Quirin, Neighborhood Funders Group (partner convener)
  • Jennifer James, Harder+Company Community Research (lead conference developer)
  • Sonia Taddy, Harder+Company Community Research (lead conference developer)
  • David Chavis, Community Science
  • Jessica Bearman, Bearman Consulting
  • Tanya Beer, Center for Evaluation Innovation
  • Antoinette Andrews, First 5 LA
  • Hallie Preskill, FSG
  • Daniela Pineda, Living Cities
  • Pennie Foster-Fishman, Michigan State University
  • Lori Nascimento, The California Endowment (conference sponsor)
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