Meet the Team: Clare Nolan

Our Meet the Team blog series highlights our team, one member at a time. We give you a glimpse into their motivations and approach to working with our partners to achieve better results for communities. Through this feature, we hope that you’ll find a deeper connection to the people and relationships that are central to our work.

Today we’re chatting with Clare Nolan, our dynamic and knowledgeable co-founder. We hope that you enjoy getting to know her better.


1.   What is your role at Engage R+D?

I am co-founder of Engage R+D. I work closely with my colleague Sonia to oversee and manage the firm, in addition to working with my clients and their partners. I’m really fascinated by the process of building a strong organizational identity and communicating that outward. What does it take to establish a common vision and mission across a group of really smart people who care about doing meaningful work? How do we develop a strong culture that promotes learning, collaboration, and innovation? How do we create effective systems that allow people to do their best work? How do we stay in touch with the needs of our field and deliver services that support our clients to effectively respond to complex equity and social justice issues? It’s fun and fascinating stuff, and I’m glad to be doing it in partnership with an incredibly bright and dedicated group of people.

2.   What experience do you bring to this work?

I was originally trained as an ethnographer and am passionate about finding ways to go deep and really understand problems from a community’s perspective. I also have a deep affinity for numbers going back to my childhood; I love using data to explore underlying patterns and relationships. My background in public policy provides me with a foundation for understanding the array of factors that shapes existing systems of social resources. My experience leading organizations means I have a working understanding of all the different factors that go into making an endeavor successful. Finally, this may sound funny but another experience I bring to my work is growing up as the sixth of seven children. Coming from such a large family has given me a deep appreciation for different ways people experience the world and how important it is to feel connected to others. This shapes how I approach working with groups to facilitate learning and strategy development.

3.   How did you discover your passion for evaluation and learning?

One of my earliest jobs out of undergrad was conducting ethnographic research with high school students who had recently emigrated from Haiti to the United States. I spent a year going to a high school every day and getting to know a group of 30 students really well, including visiting with their families, most of whom lived in public housing or migrant work camps. School administrators were puzzled by data that revealed a trend of young people dropping out of school before the end of the year only to re-enroll in the same grade the following year. It didn’t take very long to figure out what was going on. Many of these young people had parents who worked as migrant farmworkers, and some had to move with their families to pursue seasonal work. Our larger study team was able to bring this information to school officials and a local school board member who used it to put in place new educational supports and alternatives for these students. I was fascinated that no one at the school had been able to figure this out; teachers and staff had complicated jobs that often got in the way of forming close connections with students, especially those who spoke a different language and came from outside the country. To me, this experience highlighted the ways in which systems can lose sight of individual people and the power of research to bring helpful information to light.    

4.   What do you love about your job?

I love so many things about my job that it’s hard to pick just one! I will say that I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have had to learn from social sector leaders working across diverse fields and organizational roles. I have had the opportunity to work with visionary people who are deeply committed to solving tough social problems. It is both humbling and inspiring. I also enjoy the challenge of continuously delivering value to incredibly smart clients in the context of a dynamic and constantly evolving sector. Finally, I am more and more coming to appreciate the broader community of evaluators working in other organizations and how we can collaborate to collectively advance the capacity and impact of our field. 

5.   You’re in the San Francisco Bay Area - tell me 3 places I should go if I visit.

My family relocated to the East Bay three years ago after living in San Francisco for 20 years. It’s been fun exploring this side of the Bay. Here are a few favorites:

  • Cosecha is a casual restaurant specializing in home-style California-Mexican food. They make everything from scratch every single day. Chef/Owner Dominica Rice-Cisneros is an inspiration for her activism and support of female chefs. A great cross-section of folks come here to eat at the communal tables in this restored Old Oakland marketplace.  

  • Wolfman Books is a book store, event space, small press, and arts hub in downtown Oakland. It has a wonderful collection of new and used books and the store hosts really interesting, community-oriented events. The upstairs is home to Unity Skateboards, a queer local skate collective founded by Bay Area artist Jeffrey Cheung.

  • Indian Rock Park is a park located in the middle of a lush residential neighborhood that features a giant rock created from volcanic eruptions 10 million years ago. My family enjoys going up there on warm nights to watch the sunset and admire the sweeping views of Oakland, San Francisco, and the Marin Headlands.