We began in 1983 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, exploring how large institutions, such as Penn, Drexel, and the nearby VA hospital could stimulate economic development, educational opportunities, housing, and jobs in the local community. Our work centered on complicated urban issues, requiring many partners to play a role in solutions. Many of us were steeped in the civil rights activism of the 60s and 70s, and were driven by the inequity in opportunity and outcomes in the largely African American communities surrounding these large institutions. At Wharton, we also had experience in organizational development, which helped us pave the way for capacity building in the social sector. That experience was critical, because at the time, there was a significant growth in foundation private sector funding, which amplified diminishing public dollars. New social sector leadership and organizations began to assume a greater role in providing community solutions. As well, given the complexities of these problems, we assumed that public and private organizations – in many neighborhoods for the first time – needed to collaborate to design and implement these programs and services. We realized that to sustain, and, ideally expand those programs and services, nonprofits needed to take their business models and capacities seriously.
As we entered the 1990s, we moved to downtown Philadelphia to start the OMG Center for Collaborative Learning as a nonprofit organization. Our early projects, many of which emphasized complex interventions in urban neighborhoods, followed three pathways – community development, arts in quality public education, and stewardship of urban open space. We secured projects with major philanthropies, such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s rebuilding communities initiative, the William Penn Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Lilly Endowment, and with organizations like the Comprehensive Community Revitalization Project, the National Community Development Initiative, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. We were at the cusp of two important trends – a nascent social sector commitment to independent evaluators and the emergence of more complex methodologies (like mixed methods approaches informed by a Theory of Change) to do this work. OMG became effective in doing that work well, and that success drove the expansion of our services in strategic planning, evaluation, and capacity-building. Through these engagements, we grew our staff, established rigorous IT and financial systems, and perfected our tools and services.
During these years, we drew upon what we learned from our initial projects to refine our thinking about how to advance value in evaluation and strategic planning. We saw the beginning of a shift in the funding landscape, with philanthropies placing greater emphasis on funding systems-change initiatives, informed by a movement-building framework, in the areas of K-12 and postsecondary education. Our work mirrored this trend, as we began evaluations of major national college access and success programs for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation, as well as a multi-part evaluation of a Ford Foundation initiative on building public will for arts education in schools. Along with expanding our national work, we maintained a deep interest in the Philadelphia region – leading a summative evaluation for the Community Design Collaborative, and beginning our engagement as manager of the Pew Fund Capacity Building Program, among other initiatives. Finally, we strengthened our organizational commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which led to our engagement in two Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded programs to amplify DEI in the research and evaluation professions: the RWJF Evaluation Fellowship and New Connections.
The shifts that began during the 2000s continued to evolve, and we solidified our niche in translating complex ideas into effective practices. We continued our projects with the Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation, and began engagements with the Aspen Institute, the Citi Foundation, and StriveTogether, among others. We also strengthened our philanthropic services expertise, expanding our role as National Program Office for New Connections, continuing our management of the Pew Fund Capacity Building Program, and designing and facilitating national thought leadership convenings in health policy for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. During this time, OMG began planning for a leadership transition and continued growth. We refined our strategic positioning, which resulted in two major outcomes. First, Gerri Spilka, whose stewardship was instrumental to building OMG over the past 30 years, transitioned from President to Founding Director in January 2014. Meg Long, most recently Deputy Director, became President. Second, after much thought and deliberation, we changed our name to Equal Measure. In choosing Equal Measure, which took effect in January 2015, we honor our rich history – and the successful contributions to the field that occurred over those years – while reflecting on where the organization stands today and anticipating our next generation of growth.
As Equal Measure, we will deepen our expertise in evaluation, and enhance our approach to philanthropic services. We will expand thought leadership and contribute more publicly to the fields and sectors we care about most. We will continue to more meaningfully engage diverse stakeholders in our work. And, we will identify new ways to deliver on our mission, helping organizations test new ideas, shape innovations, and pilot different approaches to investing that are respectful of the nuances of driving social change. We look forward to sharing the Equal Measure story with you, and welcome your contributions and insights along the way.