Adjacencies and inspiration

Looking beyond the social sector to find other models for monitoring, evaluation, and learning

A key principle of innovation is to look at adjacent spaces for models and parallels that might have relevance. Discussions about monitoring, evaluation, and learning in the social sector have historically tended to be insular. But there are a wide range of other lessons, tools, techniques, and strategies that can serve as important sources of inspiration and ideas from “adjacent spaces”—other fields, industries, and spaces—to help the creative development of decision-centered evaluation systems in the social sector.


Re-imagining measurement toolkit

The Re-imagining measurement toolkit includes a range of innovation materials for getting to a better future for monitoring, evaluation, and learning.

This section provides examples from other sectors and types of organizations for each of the three characteristics of a better future to inspire you to make changes at your organization and with others.

Re-imagining measurement strategic learning toolkit

[brief description of this piece's place in the toolkit and the toolkit overall]

Adjacencies and inspiration

Adjacencies can help generate new or adaptive ideas to create a better future in your organization or for the field. Below you can find a few examples of adjacencies for each of the three characteristics of a better future.

For a complete set of adjacencies, please download the Adjacencies and inspiration PDF. These are cards that can either be reviewed or used in group brainstorming. Specific instructions for use in a brainstorming exercise are listed on the cards. A set of adjacencies for a specific characteristic can be found at the end of the related section below.

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Adjacencies and inspiration

More effectively putting decision making at the center

Where else can we find inspiration for more effectively putting decision making at the center?

Creating a widespread culture of learning

  • Intuit has created experimentation platforms for all their workers, ranging from customer support to logistics and marketing. Workers across the company are encouraged to brainstorm many possible solutions and then quickly test the best ideas, creating an environment where people can rapidly learn and are allowed to fail.1

What would it look like if funders built platforms for grantees expressly focused on facilitating experimentation and learning?

Using technology to increase access to specialized expertise

  • Project ECHO is an initiative to make specialized medical knowledge more accessible in rural and underserved communities. Specialist teams at academic medical centers connect to local clinicians through virtual clinics, where they provide case-based training and mentorship in treating patients with complex conditions. The initiative has expanded from its original focus on treatment for Hepatitis C to now address more than 55 diseases in more than 20 countries.2

What would it look like to use technology to spread specialized evaluation expertise to organizations that couldn’t otherwise afford it?

Developing common standards to reduce the reporting burden

  • The Common Application is an undergraduate college admission application that applicants may use to apply to more than 700 member institutions from around the world. The Common Application reduces the administrative burden on students for low-value tasks (e.g., data entry), allowing them to allocate more time to high-value tasks (e.g., essays), while still enabling member institutions to collect information core to their decision processes through supplemental information requests.3

What would it look like if funders could agree on common standards that eased the reporting burden on grantees?

Explore the complete list of adjacencies for more effectively putting decision making at the center.

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In a better future:
  1. Information for on-the-ground decision making is prioritized
  2. Learning is embedded and continuous
  3. There is greater investment in monitoring, evaluation, and learning capacity
  4. The data and methods needed to inform decisions are available

Better empowering constituents and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion

Where else can we find inspiration for better empowering constituents and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Providing broad-based cultural competence training

  • Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) provides the Tool for Assessing Cultural Competence Training (TACCT) for use in medical schools, to integrate cultural competence in all aspects of medical training. TACCT is a 67-item self-administered tool to evaluate cultural competence content across the entire medical school curriculum, in an effort to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health care.4

What would it look like if funders and nonprofits made cultural competence training a necessary part of their requirements in hiring external evaluators?

Finding creative ways to overcome biases

  • Blendoor is a blind recruiting application that hides candidate names, dates, and photos to mitigate unconscious bias in hiring. Employers are provided with only merit-and skills-based data on candidates from which to evaluate their credentials.5

What would it look like for funders and grantees to examine the biases implicit in their processes and systems?

Co-creating with users to discover new ideas

  • LEGO Ideas is an online platform where participants can submit their own designs and discover ideas by other fans. Fans provide feedback on product ideas and vote on design submissions, and the LEGO Review Board evaluates all ideas that get 10,000 votes. Those that are chosen become LEGO products that are sold worldwide. The product creator earns a percentage of the sales and is featured on packaging and marketing.6

What would it look like if social sector organizations, as a habitual practice, sought input and ideas from constituents in the design of programming?

Using real-time data to integrate and adapt service needs

  • The city of Helsinki is developing a real-time marketplace that would enable customers to choose among transportation providers to create the fastest or cheapest way of getting to their destination. Bus routes would dynamically change to respond to current demand. Customers would have a personalized travel experience by accessing different options with their phone: a ride-share, an on-demand bus, traditional public transit, or even an automated car. The ultimate goal is a city where private cars aren’t necessary to get around easily.7

What would it look like if social sector organizations could create integrated platforms that allowed constituents to see comparative data to inform their choices?

Explore the complete list of adjacencies for better empowering constituents and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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In a better future:
  1. Equity is consistently considered in and supported by monitoring, evaluation, and learning efforts
  2. Constituent feedback is an essential practice
  3. Constituents are empowered to make their own choices
  4. Data rights are secured

More productively learning at scale

Where else can we find inspiration for more productively learning at scale?

Mapping data gaps to determine where to focus efforts

  • Earth Microbiome is a crowd-sourced open science effort to analyze microbial life on the planet that includes the mapping of “dark matter” as part of its efforts. Up to 99 percent of microbial organisms are deemed unknown dark matter, which biologists can’t culture in a lab due to limited knowledge or insufficient growth conditions.8

What if funders could broadly map out existing knowledge to help identify where there are critical gaps in information that need to be addressed?

Aggregating individual data on collective platforms

  • PatientsLikeMe’s Open Research Exchange is an open platform for developing, validating, and sharing health outcome measures that better reflect patients’ experiences with a disease. Researchers can get feedback from real patients to test and improve health outcome measures to make them more relevant to a patient’s health and quality of life.9

What would it look like if funders aggregated data so that it could be made more accessible and useful for informing the day-to-day work of grantees?

Explore the complete list of adjacencies for more productively learning at scale.

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In a better future:
  1. Data, learning, and knowledge are shared openly and widely
  2. Knowledge gaps and learning agendas are collaboratively undertaken
  3. Data is integrated at scale needed to assess social impact
  4. Evaluation synthesis, replication, and meta-evaluation are supported


1Future of Work Magazine, “The Future of Work is Scalable Learning.” May 8, 2016.

2UNM School of Medicine. “About ECHO.” No Date. UNM Health Sciences Center and Project Echo. “Project ECHO®: Right Knowledge. Right Place. Right Time.” 2016.

3The Common Application. “About Us.” No Date.

4Association of American Medical Colleges. “Tool for Assessing Cultural Competence Training (TACCT).” No Date.

5Blendoor, “About Blendoor.” 2017.

6LEGO Ideas, “How it Works – LEGO Ideas.”. 2016.

7Deloitte Perspective, 2016, “The New Journey of “Internet +”

8Earth Microbiome Project. “About.” No Date; Earth Microbiome Project. “Objectives.” No Date. See also Corie Lok. “Mining the Microbial Dark Matter.” Nature. 16 June 2015.

9Open Research Exchange. “Frequently Asked Questions.” No Date.

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