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ERIC Number: ED569975
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2015-Jul
Pages: 30
Abstractor: ERIC
A Case Study on Moving Philosophically Diverse Funders to Common Priorities. Education Funders Research Initiative
Hilliard, Thomas J.
Education Funders Research Initiative
Collaboration is a recurring theme among philanthropic funders and their grantees. Most funders have engaged in collaboration at some level. A few collaborations achieve outstanding success and are lionized in case studies. Others break up without conclusion or fall short of their original mission and are tactfully forgotten. One standard assumption about funder collaborations is that the participants agree on an action agenda. The purpose of the collaboration is to carry out that commonly agreed agenda. But what if the funders in the room do not agree? What if the subject area is so divisive, so polarizing, that strife appears to be the natural order, rather than consensus? The most natural course would be for participants to agree to disagree and go their separate ways. A group of education funders in New York City adopted an entirely different and even counterintuitive strategy: Bring a group of funders with diverse perspectives into one room, commission original research to identify the evidence base for a set of common-ground priorities, and then use the consensus around those priorities to foster productive dialogue among key education stakeholders. The success of this initiative establishes an intriguing new collaborative model for the philanthropic world. In July 2012, a group of education funders convened by "Philanthropy New York" developed a plan to prepare for the impending election of a new mayor only 16 months away. It would be a momentous changing of the guard, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg departed after three terms and 12 years of relentless innovation in the city's public education system. They knew that executing any collaborative strategy would be challenging. Education policy is perhaps the most contentious policy area in the United States, even more so than healthcare because it sorts less clearly along ideological lines. New York City in particular has been (and continues to be) the setting for sharp-elbowed disputes over charter schools, standardized testing, teacher evaluation, and school finance, just to name a few. Cleavages among education funders reflect these broader conflicts. Furthermore, funding portfolios diverge broadly, making any attempt at categorization inherently challenging. The group's plan presented a striking case study in philanthropic jiu-jitsu. Rather than work only with like-minded funder, or get bogged down in the heated debates already pervasive in the media and politics, these funders chose to acknowledge their differences and focus on areas of common agreement, eventually succeeding in identifying priority areas that applied across both traditional neighborhood schools and charter schools. The working group of 16 funders that took on this challenge eventually named themselves the "Education Funders Research Initiative," or EdFunders for short, because they viewed research as the distinctive organizing principle of their project. EdFunders retained academic, philosophically unaligned researchers to draft a series of three policy-relevant papers. An intellectually diverse board of advisors commented on drafts of each paper to strengthen their intellectual rigor. The final paper distilled policy recommendations based on evidence and served as the basis for a set of six priorities that the funders officially endorsed. On February 14, 2014, leaders of the collaborative met with newly appointed Chancellor Carmen FariƱa and presented their priorities. This study, carried out on behalf of Philanthropy New York is a qualitative assessment of the EdFunders collaborative. It is not an evaluation. The author interviewed a number of funders, advisors, and researchers involved in the project and reviewed extensive documentation compiled over the course of the initiative. The study briefly reviews the literature on philanthropic collaboration. It then describes how the EdFunders collaborative came into being, developed an operational plan, implemented that plan, and concluded the project as it was originally conceived. The study then examines EdFunders' three primary components--collaboration, research and communication--identifying the strategies in each area and drawing out lessons learned. The study then closes with a set of questions for future common-ground collaboratives to consider. The report includes a bibliography and the following are appended: (1) Six Priorities for the Next Mayor and Chancellor; and (2) Supporters and Advisors to the Education Funders Research Initiative.
Education Funders Research Initiative. Available from: Philanthropy New York. 79 Fifth Avenue, 4th floor, New York, NY 10002. Tel: 212-714-0699 x222; Fax: 212-239-2075; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Education Funders Research Initiative; Center for an Urban Future; Philanthropy New York
Identifiers - Location: New York (New York)
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A