The case for potential success
Strength of evidence refers to the case the proposal makes for the potential success of its proposed solution to reduce structural inequality.
The Center for High Impact Philanthropy’s broad definition of evidence includes three sources of evidence for a more inclusive view that goes beyond traditional scientific, empirical evidence to include observations of stakeholders and the perspectives of those most directly affected. All of these sources of evidence inform a strong theory of change.6
- The first is scientific research and evaluation results from sources such as randomized control trials, program evaluations, and rigorous comparison studies.
- The second source of evidence comes from the field and includes the perspectives, experiences, and practical insights of those working on the frontlines and the beneficiaries themselves.
- The third source of evidence is informed opinion, which includes the views of other stakeholders such as policymakers, journalists, donors, and those working in peer organizations.
All three sources of evidence are valid, and each brings relative strengths and limitations (for more see Rethinking the E Word). The strongest case for success exists when all three sources of evidence point in the same direction. However, a strong, plausible, compelling case may be made for a solution even with limited evidence from the first category. There can be big differences in both the amount and type of relevant evidence, depending on the cause area the proposal addresses; the developmental stage of the organization; and whether the proposal is for research, direct service, or advocacy.
For example, a strong proposal for a needed but still untested program will have clear understanding of the root causes of the problem and evidence that the solution is promising, but it may not yet have empirical proof. In these cases, Strength of Evidence also refers to how strong the case is for the potential for the proposal to achieve its intended impact. A proposal for expanding a longstanding direct-service program that has already scaled to many states or countries would be expected to have available client-level evaluation results, whereas a new policy initiative for more equitable funding would not yet have any individual-level results. Instead that proposal would rely on data regarding existing disparities and a modeled analysis of how the new policy might close them.
Questions to Ask
How compelling is the evidence for a solution that addresses a barrier to structural equality?
How strong is the evidence that the problem they are solving contributes to structural inequality?
How strong is the evidence that their chosen solution has the potential to reduce structural inequality?
The proposal offers implausible evidence that the proposed solution will be effective. The solution targets a problem with an indirect/trivial relationship to structural inequality.
The proposal offers minimal, marginally plausible evidence from few sources that the solution has the potential to be effective. The solution targets an aspect of structural inequality.
The proposal offers some plausible evidence from few sources that demonstrates the solution has the potential to be effective. The solution targets an aspect of structural inequality.
The proposal offers evidence from a handful of sources that demonstrates the solution has the potential to be effective. The solution targets an aspect of structural inequality.
The proposal offers significant evidence from many sources that demonstrates the solution has the potential to be effective. The solution targets an aspect of structural inequality.
How to Score This Element
When scoring for this element, consider whether the type and amount of evidence matches the specific proposal. The highest-scoring proposals (3-4) provide substantial, credible, compelling evidence that the proposed solution is thoughtful in its design; will be effective in its implementation; and is directly related to some aspect of structural inequality. A mid-scoring proposal (2) suggests a solution that is also directly related to an aspect of structural inequality, but the evidence presented may be only tangentially related and only meet the threshold of plausible. A low-scoring proposal (0-1) fails to address an aspect of structural inequality or addresses an aspect but presents minimal or weak evidence, rendering the success implausible.