Foundations with a mission to improve the human condition play an important role in helping to solve many of our country’s public challenges—from education and racial equity to health and homelessness. With passion driving their mission-oriented goals, they come to Westat for “our experience, expertise, flexibility, and responsiveness, but also for our professional, unbiased, and custom-tailored approach,” says Debra Rog, Ph.D., a Vice President and lead evaluator.
“Working with foundations can be much more of a collaborative venture, developing a scope of work together that can evolve over time, and encourages and nurtures knowledge sharing between staffs,” explains Dr. Rog. “It’s not as prescribed as serving a government client, which often entails working within a specified framework of deliverables.”
This less structured, more flexible interactivity also provides the opportunity to be creative and test new ideas in developing study designs and methods, conducting the studies, and disseminating the findings. In addition, understanding the organization and taking a problem-solving approach provides opportunities to help the foundation staff pose and address questions they may not have considered. Dr. Rog explains that in some cases a foundation client may ask a question that may be not be able to be addressed, but we can help identify the questions that can and should be addressed through our expertise in the area and our understanding of the context. “For example, we have worked with a foundation to elaborate its theory of change within the broader context, refining the outcomes that most align with its work and aspirations and can be studied.”
“Working with foundations is very person-oriented and relationship-based,” Dr. Rog explains. “Our foundation clients often seek out the specific knowledge, expertise, and skills of our staff; they trust us to conduct evaluations and other studies that are of high quality, and are also relevant, credible, and useful. They build on those experiences and networks over time, even sharing that information about Westat with other foundations in need.”
Westat’s wide array of methodological and substantive expertise is also recognized by foundation clients as a plus. “We have staff on hand who can do large-scale data collection as well as in-depth qualitative work, perform unique statistical analysis, as well as provide conceptual assistance in diagnosing a problem and identifying a course of action,” Dr. Rog notes. “We can rapidly respond to a variety of needs, switching gears with additional staff or capabilities. We can also bring in partners when needed to add to our deep bench of staff expertise.
“Westat provides balance,” adds Dr. Rog. “We listen and engage with clients, and strive to bring in many perspectives into the work, including the voices of those whose lives the foundations aim to improve. We pair rigor with credibility to provide evidence-based guidance for the complex problems they are addressing.”
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