A case study on convergences between Blue Marble operating principles and GHR's BridgeBuilder® guiding principles.
GHR Foundation, an independent foundation based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, exists to be of service to people and their limitless potential for good. In 2016, the global call from Pope Francis to “build bridges, not walls” spurred GHR to design its BridgeBuilder® Challenge initiative as a means to incentivize creative social-change solutions that bridge peace, prosperity and planet among people, organizations, issues and beliefs to promote meaningful engagement and sustainable, community-led change. The Foundation funded the initiative for three years at $1M per year in partnership with OpenIDEO.
Over three years, the Challenge sourced more than 1,300 ideas from social innovators in 185 countries, leading to 15 investments in radical new ways to address urgent global issues at the intersections of peace, prosperity, and planet. In 2020, GHR has continued to adopt lessons learned from the funded BridgeBuilder projects to reimagine what's possible in its global development work.
Blue Marble Evaluation calls us to “apply whole-Earth, big-picture thinking to all aspects of systems change.” BridgeBuilder recognizes that responding to global challenges like climate change and inequality require a more interconnected approach to grantmaking. While BridgeBuilder started by funding highly localized projects across sectors, it quickly taught GHR to more fully live into the principle of global thinking.
Though GHR Foundation has not explicitly adopted a Blue Marble perspective, this case study explores the convergence between the BridgeBuilder guiding principles and Blue Marble’s operating principles. Specifically, we look at where a Blue Marble approach complements or adds depth to GHR’s principles, as well as where GHR’s principles can enhance and inform how a Blue Marble approach is implemented. We also use this case study as an opportunity to highlight challenges and opportunities in implementing Blue Marble Evaluation in a real-world example.
GHR Foundation exists to be of service to people and their limitless potential for good. For more than 50 years, the legacy of founders Gerald and Henrietta Rauenhorst (GHR) has steered GHR Foundation’s optimistic and transformational philanthropic approach. Alongside the Foundation’s partners around the world, GHR reimagines what’s possible when pursuing change across its areas of impact: Children in Families, Education, Alzheimer’s Prevention, and more.
Traditionally, GHR has funded in three primary areas:
- Global Development: Change-making approaches to persistent development challenges
- Education: Bridging gaps and building strong educational communities
- Health: Groundbreaking research to treat and prevent Alzheimer's disease
Since its first Challenge in 2017, GHR has funded fifteen BridgeBuilder projects at just over $3 million USD collectively. The 2017 Challenge supported organizations that—whether working to advance peace, increase prosperity, or preserve our planet—recognized the need for dialogue and collaboration across issue areas.
The 2018 Challenge supported organizations working to address urgent global challenges at the intersections of peace, prosperity, and planet in radically new ways. The program encouraged participants to design, collaborate and innovate for the global good. The 2019 Challenge elevated ideas addressing the specific urgent and emergent needs among people on the move. See Appendix A: List of BridgeBuilder Challenge Top Ideas for descriptions of individual projects.
Like many foundations, GHR was interested in understanding the impact of its investments. They came to realize, however, that a traditional method of evaluating individual projects and aggregating results upward wouldn't tell them what they wanted to know, which was how changemakers understood and enacted bridging in all of the projects while being informed by each project’s unique context. GHR turned to principles-focused developmental evaluation as a way to bring coherence to a diverse set of projects working on systems change in a variety of ways. Principles-focused developmental evaluation allowed GHR to look at how and why change happened, as well as what changed.
In November 2017, GHR convened the BridgeBuilder 2017 Cohort to celebrate and explore the threads that connected their work. The goals of the convening were to:
- Allow cohort members to learn about each other’s work;
- Explore possibilities towards “building bridges” across projects;
- Provide new tools and knowledge that would help take their impact further;
- Reveal the impact and learning grantees hoped to achieve through individual projects; and
- Expand the community of allies that grantees could turn to for support.
The spirit of the convening included learning, celebration, and fun. As part of their time together, the grantees reflected on what was most important about how they worked, and how principles could focus their individual projects towards a common purpose.
Conversations at the 2017 Cohort Convening produced a set of concepts that eventually led to the GHR BridgeBuilder guiding principles:
- Meeting people where they are, rather than making them come to you;
- Building trust;
- Changing the narrative at the system level;
- Shifting power structures;
- Accessing resources not typically used by communities;
- Accessing resources to restore environments (physical and social) and lead to peace and prosperity, and environmental (community) restoration needed for peace and prosperity;
- Drawing out and activating community assets while operating in environments of risk;
- Developing strong local partnerships;
- Establishing economic benefit at the individual level/workforce development;
GHR sought to learn more about how principles-based bridge-building could meet complex global challenges across their continuing BridgeBuilder efforts. To do so, they partnered with Nora F. Murphy Johnson of Inspire to Change (formerly with TerraLuna Collaborative) to support and guide the implementation of a principles-focused developmental evaluation.
From November 2017-January 2018, the evaluation team interviewed 2017 Cohort grantees to learn more about what the principle concepts looked like in practice. In the fall of 2019, evaluators from Inspire to Change re-interviewed 2017 Cohort BridgeBuilder grantees and conducted new interviews with four of the five 2018 Cohort BridgeBuilder grantees. The evaluation team analyzed interview data, as well as all GHR-to-grantee phone calls and Cohort 1 & 2 reports from 2017-2019. The analysis sought to determine which principles were at work, what they looked like across diverse settings, and their effectiveness in helping organizations achieve their goals. The evaluation team worked with the data and the GHR BridgeBuilder team in an iterative process to develop a revised set of guiding principles that met the realities of day-to-day BridgeBuilder work. Taken together, these principles provide a cohesive framework that guides bridge building work in diverse global settings and aligns the work of grantees towards the values of GHR and the goals of BridgeBuilder.
In 2019, GHR established a set of organizational values that reflect how it works towards its overall purpose to be of service to people and their limitless potential for good.
Blue Marble’s Transboundary Engagement principle calls us to ‘act at a global scale.’ Connecting this to BridgeBuilder’s Challenge principle highlights the ways that structures, norms, paradigms and mental models around who has power and ownership is embedded within a global narrative and ethos. Through a Blue Marble lens, we can explore how power structures are connected to global systems of oppression that have implications at the local and personal levels.
Blue Marble’s “Glocal” operating principle calls us to integrate complex interconnections across levels. Meeting people where they are and deeply rooting the work in context requires exactly this type of interconnection. Every person has varied relationships and identities that cross boundaries. Meeting people where they are at in each of these spaces requires a conscious examination of the interconnections across levels called for with the Blue Marble perspective. To treat someone as though they exist without entangled interconnections is untrue, unethical and will never lead to the types of transformation we wish to see. Furthermore, rooting the Blue Marble perspective in context, cultures, knowledge, wisdom, needs and aspirations of the people and communities brings the big picture of the Blue Marble back to the individual communities where lives are lived.
Blue Marble’s Cross-Silos principle calls us to ‘engage across sectors and issues,’ silos which are created, managed, maintained and transformed by people. Therefore, building bridges across these silos requires building trust-based relationships that can endure uncertainty and discomfort, as called for by BridgeBuilder’s Build and Bridge principles. Together, these principles create a more complete vision of what it takes to make change happen, weaving the interpersonal and intersectional.
Blue Marble’s Time Being of the Essence principle calls us to ‘act with a sense of urgency in the present, support adaptive sustainability long-term, grounding both in understanding of the past.’ The Journey-Oriented BridgeBuilder principle to ‘walk alongside partners and communities’ is enhanced by a connection to this Blue Marble principle by providing a general roadmap for the journey. Not a clear path, but a set of guideposts for navigating the terrain. Likewise, adding the concept of a journey to the idea of time roots the Blue Marble perspective in the lived experiences of those most affected, prioritizing the ability of communities to implement their own solutions without losing sight of the bigger picture, zooming in and zooming out as necessary.
The Blue Marble operating principle of Yin Yang calls us to ‘harmonize conceptual opposites,’ which connects to the BridgeBuilder principle of Promote. Promoting pathways to equity and justice requires deep listening to people who have varied experience, fears and aspirations. But such listening will inevitably surface different experiences and ideas about the path to equity and justice. Harmonizing these different viewpoints and experiences while maintaining dignity and respect for differences is the work of the Blue Marble evaluator.
Both Blue Marble and BridgeBuilder Principles end with an acknowledgement that they are only as effective as they are put into practice in the service of systems change. To that end, both sets include a specific call to use. In Blue Marble, the Evaluation as Intervention principle calls for integrating the principles in design, engagement and intervention of systems change initiatives. For BridgeBuilder, the Adapt principle calls us to adapt by using the principles to guide decision-making and action in the face of complexity and uncertainty. Taken together, the two sets of principles provide a more complete picture of what it takes to create change at multiple levels in the service of global systems transformation.
As noted previously, GHR did not set out to intentionally adopt a Blue Marble lens to its BridgeBuilder program. Yet evaluators have explored how there are many instances of convergence between the two sets of principles. In this section, we will discuss areas where the Blue Marble principles are farther afield. The challenges in connecting to the remaining Blue Marble operating principles were not shortcomings specific to GHR, Inspire to Change, or the principles-based evaluation of the BridgeBuilder project. They illustrate challenges faced by the larger fields of philanthropy, development, and evaluation in moving towards a Blue Marble perspective. In this section we pair challenges with implications for how evaluation must grow in the face of the global emergency. Because this is a reflective section, I (Nora F. Murphy Johnson) wrote in the first person.
Why This Case is Important
What does the case illustrate about the importance of Blue Marble Evaluation? What does it teach us about how to do Blue Marble Evaluation?
This case demonstrates that some philanthropic organizations may be more ready for Blue Marble evaluation principles than the evaluation field. GHR began moving towards a set of self-organized guiding principles to bring coherence to their portfolio of BridgeBuilder projects before engaging with Inspire to Change. The work of transformative change will happen with or without evaluation. As the work of philanthropies and organizations has grown to meet complex global challenges, the evaluation field must grow and develop ways of understanding and explaining complexity.
Blue Marble offers a path for evaluators to grapple with complexity and ambiguity across global and local contexts. BridgeBuilder demonstrates how Blue Marble evaluation represents a continuum of principles-focused evaluation, and how a particular initiative may have areas of principled convergence with Blue Marble and areas of principled divergence from Blue Marble.
GHR announced its final cohort of Top Ideas in late 2019. GHR continues to convene virtually with all three of its BridgeBuilder cohorts to learn more about how best to connect their work and share more broadly about the impact of the principles.
Global systems transformation will not happen without systematic, meaningful, and useful learning. Principles are one powerful and effective way to guide this learning. Blue Marble principles in particular can enhance the work of principles-focused initiatives like BridgeBuilder by ensuring the work is rooted in the global context.
Applying a Blue Marble lens to the BridgeBuilder case has highlighted for me several implications for evaluation.
We must be able to look at the drop and the bucket. Some work that is important to global systems transformation is very local and alone, and may never get to a global impact. We must get better at measuring drop in the collective bucket, and connecting the ripples each drop creates.
We must see ourselves as impacting and being impacted by the work. We need to stop treating this work as though we can be objective and separate from the work. We need to stop seeing our personal development and wellbeing as separate from our professional development and wellbeing. If we treat ourselves as less than whole, we cannot expect to create whole systems change.
We need new ways to see. Our current theories of change, outcome chains, and logic models are woefully inadequate at helping us understand how change happens in complex systems. We need theories of transformation that let us see more clearly, with more complexity, and with less certainty. We also need to recognize that learning, adaptation, and evaluation are not synonymous.
We need different methods. All cultures have ways of sharing their stories, of communicating what is meaningful to them. We should be using methods that are indigenous to cultures and places, rather than assuming that the social science toolbox is adequate or ethical.
We need to re-member our past. We need to recognize the role that philanthropy, development, and evaluation has played--and continues to play--in creating and maintaining oppressive systems. Unless we start with an honest re-membering and understanding of the past and truthful assessment of the present, we have no hope of global transformation that is healthy and holistic.
We need more time. The concepts of “efficiency” and “being a good steward of our dollars” is shorthand for the industrial mental model that equates time and money. We cannot bring this mental model into our global systems transformation work. Some urgent global work needs to be solved right now; other urgent global work may need to unfold at the pace of a hundred years. The threads of complex work each unfold in their own way and at their own pace. We should be responding accordingly, allowing for different timelines in our work.
I would like to thank the members of the BridgeBuilder Cohorts for their work in solving problems across the world. I would also like to thank Mark Guy, Mary Dalsin, and Chris Berger of GHR for their continued commitment to and engagement with principles-based work and evaluation, Charmagne Campbell-Patton for her development of Blue Marble principles, and A. Rafael Johnson and Melissa Olson from Inspire to Change for their contributions to this work.