In their pursuit of the public good, foundations face two competing forces -- the pressure to do something new and the pressure to do something proven. The epigraph to this paper, "Give me something new and prove that it works," is my own summary of what foundations often seek. These pressures come from within the foundations -- their staff or boards demand them, not the public. The aspiration to fund things that work can be traced to the desire to be careful, effective stewards of resources. Foundations' recognition of the growing complexity of our shared challenges drives the increased emphasis on innovation. Issues such as climate change, political corruption, and digital learning andwork environments have enticed new players into the social problem-solving sphere and have con-vinced more funders of the need to find new solutions. The seemingly mutually exclusive desires for doing something new and doing something proven are not new, but as foundations have grown in number and size the visibility of the paradox has risen accordingly.
Even as foundations seek to fund innovation, they are also seeking measurements of those investments success. Many people's first response to the challenge of measuring innovation is to declare the intention oxymoronic. Innovation is by definition amorphous, full of unintended consequences, and a creative, unpredictable process -- much like art. Measurements, assessments, evaluation are -- also by most definitions -- about quantifying activities and products. There is always the danger of counting what you can count, even if what you can count doesn't matter.
For all our awareness of the inherent irony of trying to measure something that we intend to be unpredictable, many foundations (and others) continue to try to evaluate their innovation efforts. They are, as John Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, and Michael Quinn Patton put it in "Getting to Maybe", grappling with "....intentionality and complexity -- (which) meet in tension." It is important to see the struggles to measure for what they are -- attempts to evaluate the success of the process of innovation, not necessarily the success of the individual innovations themselves. This is not a semantic difference.What foundations are trying to understand is how to go about funding innovation so that more of it can happen
Examples in this report were chosen because they offer a look at innovation within the broader scope of a foundation's work. This paper is the fifth in a series focused on field building. In this context I am interested in where evaluation fits within an innovation strategy and where these strategies fit within a foundation's broader funding goals. I will present a typology of innovation drawn from the OECD that can be useful inother areas. I lay the decisions about evaluation made by Knight, MacArthur, and the Jewish NewMedia Innovation Funders against their program-matic goals. Finally, I consider how evaluating innovation may improve our overall use of evaluation methods in philanthropy.