Evaluating Narrative Change With The California Endowment


At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, The California Endowment (TCE), the state’s largest private health foundation, sought to provide lifesaving public health information to Californians. At the same time, the foundation aimed to drive narrative change to challenge structural and systemic racism in California’s public health system. 

TCE awarded grants to 18 organizations to support public education campaigns, outreach to non-English-language media, and narrative change strategies related to health equity and racial justice.

TCE’s evaluation team faced the challenge of assessing the impact of this complex undertaking during a time of crisis. How did grantees disseminate information? How did their work affect the narrative about COVID-19 risk? What capacity did grantees develop, and what would they need to sustain it over time? And, important for TCE: What lessons could the foundation apply to future grantmaking? 


TCE partnered with Hattaway Communications on a yearlong evaluation effort to get answers to these questions. The evaluation revealed that grantees succeeded in connecting hard-to-reach populations with public health information while promoting positive narratives about their respective communities—and conveying the unique risks COVID presented to them—in broader media outreach. 

TCE’s nimble response resulted in flexible and audience-centered outreach, diverse and carefully considered messengers, and a consistent flow of information about COVID-19 actions that added dimension and nuance to coverage of the pandemic. The impact of the loss of elders on Native American and Asian populations, and the risk of infection faced by agricultural workers are just two examples of the perspectives that TCE grantees were able to consistently promote. Their work also made a significant impact on public health approaches—such as making agricultural workers a priority for early vaccination.

Grantees advanced narrative change by connecting COVID-related actions to community empowerment and resilience. Grantee efforts showed diverse communities how they could gain strength by working together, sharing resources, and looking out for one another. 


The lessons learned from this evaluation can be applied to other complex communications efforts, particularly those aimed at narrative change and dismantling racist structures. We’ve outlined the key lessons below. 

Data analysis tells only part of the story. Communications evaluation requires a mix of research methods. Quantitative media analysis was essential to understanding what happened, while qualitative interviews with grantees shed light on challenges they encountered and how they overcame them.

Structure is essential to insight. Analysis was based on Hattaway’s Narrative Framework, allowing us to easily identify trends across grantee work. We examined the communities most impacted by COVID-19 (People), their aspirations (Goals), and how the solutions offered by TCE partners helped these communities overcome obstacles (Problems and Solutions). 

Grantees and funders both have powerful roles to play. Grantees have rich knowledge of what’s happening on the ground, while funders hold a unique bird’s-eye view across communities and issues. Grantees were eager to learn from each other and share lessons about tactical efforts as well as overall narrative change goals. These realities pointed to a wider role for TCE to support this kind of learning and collaboration within and between groups. 

Need help evaluating your narrative change efforts? Reach out to us at info@hattaway.com


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