Transformative Evaluation


Stakeholder engagement in impact measurement and management (IMM) is often done for reasons of accountability and improvement. With a transformative evaluation (TE) approach to IMM, businesses and investors can achieve a third goal – social justice. We live in an age where social and environmental justice are prominent topics among policymakers, corporations, international treaties, and consumers. TE provides principles and processes that lead to social justice outcomes for the most marginalized stakeholders. 

TE is all about focusing on marginalized populations – those who are usually left out of stakeholder engagement activities – and engaging them throughout an IMM process in a culturally responsive way.  According to Donna M. Mertens and Amy T. Wilson in Program evaluation theory and practice: a comprehensive guide, TE involves:

  • An ethical stance of inclusion and challenging oppressive structures that sustain inequality and discrimination
  • A participatory and reflective entry process into the community that is designed to build trust, address power differences, and make goals and strategies transparent
  • Dissemination of findings in ways that encourage the use of results to enhance human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice
  • Addressing intersectionality when culturally responsive, feminist, equity-focused, and indigenous theories are relevant in the evaluation context.

In addition, TE follows a set of principles, shown below (text adapted from A Transformative Evaluation Toolkit for The Impact Investing Sector, by Engineers Without Borders Canada, September 2019).

Address issues of power and establish respectful relationships.
Incorporate reciprocity.
Choose IMM methods that are responsive to and supportive of communities that may be marginalized, underrepresented or vulnerable.
Contribute to increased social, economic and environmental justice.
Promote cultural respect.
Engage stakeholders in dialogue and encourage a democratic role for participants.
Include a contextual analysis and needs assessment that goes beyond a literature review to engage with stakeholders in respectful ways.
Utilize evaluation results.

TE is valuable for impact investors and social entrepreneurs because it offers a framework for engaging customers and other beneficiaries in an in-depth, highly inclusive, and culturally-responsive way that will help entrepreneurs better meet the needs of their customers and beneficiaries, and investors select more socially impactful investments. At the same time, TE directly contributes to social justice by way of its process. 

Here’s how it works

At each stage of an impact investment or business process, internal staff or external consultants apply TE principles in a tailored way to their IMM practice. TE should be used in conjunction with existing IMM standards and metrics, such as the GIIN’s IRIS+, the Impact Management Project’s five dimensions of impact, the UNDP SDG Impact Standards, or others. 

While there is no single way to do TE, it involves a combination of engaging in self-reflection, building a culturally competent IMM team, identifying the nature of the problem being tackled by a product or investment, building trusting stakeholder relationships, doing a contextual analysis, collaboratively selecting data collection methods, gathering data, co-interpreting data, and utilizing data for social justice and transformation. TE should be used any time you need information from customers or beneficiaries to make decisions or improve a product or investment strategy.

The key part of TE is building relationships with a full range of stakeholders, including those who are most marginalized, and meaningfully involving them in all parts of IMM. This meaningful involvement of stakeholders is contextual, and can take many forms, such as highly-developed participatory and empowerment evaluation methods. The use of local advisory committees and indigenous methods of stakeholder engagement are common in TE. 

The benefit

By including the full range of stakeholders, and engaging them often, impact investors and social entrepreneurs can use TE to create more sustainable and impactful businesses that effectively scale, maximize social and environmental justice, and minimize negative impacts. 

TE can be applied at all investment or business stages, to serve a variety of purposes. For example, TE can be used by investors to clarify how the fund will directly or indirectly benefit communities, especially with respect to marginalized populations, systems of oppression and barriers to social justice. It can also be used to involve stakeholders in the selection of impact metrics. Entrepreneurs can use TE to build teams that reflect the local context, deepen their understanding of the problem a product is intended to solve, test the cultural and contextual fit of a product, or address power dynamics in the customer population, supply chain, or market contexts. 

Ultimately, TE makes a focus on social justice explicit, and provides a framework for entrepreneurs and investors to conduct their activities through this lens.


Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) deploys investment capital, talent and mentorship to support founding-stage social enterprises in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2017, social enterprise M-Shule received a seed investment from EWB. M-Shule is an SMS knowledge-building platform that helps organisations deliver Learning, Evaluation, Activation, and Data tools across East Africa. Organisations leverage this award-winning approach to help individuals learn new skills, evaluate their progress, activate them to new behaviors, and collect and analyse data on their progress. 

With support from the 2018 ANDE Catalyst Fund for Impact Measurement, Global Affairs Canada, and the generous donors of EWB, EWB carried out a TE of M-Shule between June 2018 and June 2019. You can view the resulting case study for a detailed, step-by-step description of the evaluation, including how stakeholders were engaged with a TE lens. 

Learn More

Check out these websites and publications.  See for yourselves how social justice can be achieved via a TE lens in IMM.

Transformative Evaluation in Impact Investing Report

Transformative Evaluation Toolkit for Impact Investing

The Global Handbook of Impact Investing: Solving Global Problems Via Smarter Capital Markets Towards a More Sustainable Society (See Chapter 18 – Transformative Evaluation and Impact Investing: A Fruitful Marriage)

Prepared by Courtney Bolinson, social impact measurement consultant. 

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Jane Reisman
Jane Reisman
2 years ago

Testing 1,2,3

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