As evaluators, we learn that being culturally responsive is a key part of conducting ethical evaluations. The
American Evaluation Association states that “cultural competence is an ethical imperative” (2011). Further, “cultural competence is not a state at which one arrives; rather, it is a process of learning, unlearning, and relearning” (American Evaluation Association, 2011). Commitment to developing cultural competence and responsiveness can direct an evaluation team in its approach to everything from the evaluation design to the final deliverable, and all stages in between. Evaluation theories are inherently cultural and are not value-neutral (American Evaluation Association, 2011). It is up to the evaluators and the team to determine the most appropriate and responsive approach in each evaluation.
I found that building cultural responsiveness through a reflective practice has fostered both individual and team reflection while building skills necessary to address future evaluations including planning, stakeholder relationships, data collection, and reporting. Here’s my story and what I learned.
Understanding and Challenging Implicit Biases
On an international evaluation team working in health and economic development, it was important to consider how cultural responsiveness across context varies. To begin the dialogue, it was important to look within and reflect on our own biases as this can affect how we approach evaluations, collect data, and interact with beneficiaries. Members of the evaluation team were asked to take Implicit Association Tests to uncover and better understand their implicit biases. To minimize potential discomfort in a team discussion, reflection questions were posed in advance to prompt reflection and included:
What did you find surprising about the test and/or your results?
How can you apply what you learned about yourself through this test to your evaluation work?
Individuals were not required to share the results of their tests, and a series of the IATs were conducted over a series of weeks to facilitate stronger individual reflections. Reflecting on these questions individually and discussing the responses as a team created an opportunity to reinforce that as people, we have biases, and as evaluators, we should be conscious of implicit and explicit biases and how this can affect our work.
During a Qualitative Evaluation Methods course at American University, my peers and I discussed whether it was culturally appropriate and responsive to arrive to conduct evaluation work while wearing expensive jewelry or other items that could symbolize status and wealth when working in a low-income context. Is it unethical to remove items you wear daily, especially if you are going to be working with a group or community over a long period of time and need to form a strong relationship – what happens if you forget one day? Will the stakeholders you are working with interact with you differently based on these items? These choices can be challenging as the answers are often situational and deeply personal, which is why cultivating a reflective evaluation practice is even more important to begin to respond to these moral, ethical, and cultural questions.
There are other identities that should be considered before entering a community, and in an evaluation team, this can include selecting which member or members of the team are most suited to work on the project.
Specific considerations should be given to:
The community and stakeholders
The theme or topic of the evaluation
Any other context that is necessary to make an informed decision
For some evaluations, a member of the team may have previous experience working in that area or even with that community, making them particularly suited to join the project. The theme or topic of the evaluation can also inform who are the best-suited members of the team for which roles. In designing an equitable evaluation, we should take care to hear the voices we are trying to capture through the evaluation.
Starting with Reflection
As an individual, it is important to understand the strengths and areas of growth of an evaluation practice. This is perhaps more important in a team where there are different members involved who each bring different experiences and perspectives.
At the American Evaluation Association Summer Institute in 2019, I participated in a session titled Utilization of a Racial Equity Lens to Help Guide Strategic Engagement and Evaluation led by Dr. LaShaune Johnson and Dr. Mindelyn Anderson. During this workshop, one of the activities we completed a self-reflection assessment from Public Policy Associates about whether our evaluation practice was culturally responsive. This prompted self-reflection about competencies to focus on growing for a more culturally responsive and equitable evaluation practice, so I wanted to bring this self-reflective activity back to my team. To further promote continued reflection and growth, I set a calendar reminder to take the self-assessment again a year after the original assessment date. I was surprised to see positive progress after being intentional about culturally responsive evaluation in a period of only one year. I now look forward to the next yearly assessment in addition to the ongoing reflection and check-ins along the way.
It can seem daunting to change an established evaluation practice within a team or organization, but small, actionable steps can begin to create change. Implicit Association Tests are a great way to privately assess personal implicit biases, and in an evaluation team, they can be useful in beginning a dialogue about how biases can affect our work. Taking assessments such as the one created by Public Policy Associates further build a reflective practice to foster culturally responsive and equitable evaluations.
In an evaluation team setting, the goal is for the reflection to lead to a stronger team and evaluation practice in every sense. As the American Evaluation Association states, “Given the diversity of culture and its fluid nature, no list of considerations and activities could suffice to ensure cultural competence” (2011). For that reason, building a reflective practice will encourage the reflection, consideration, and growth needed for the diversity and fluid nature of culture and evaluation. The journey will look different for everyone, but growth and forward momentum towards more culturally responsive and equitable evaluation should be recognized and celebrated along the way.
American Evaluation Association. (2011, April 22). Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation. Retrieved August 02, 2020, from https://www.eval.org/p/cm/ld/fid=92
Public Policy Associates. (n.d.). Is My Evaluation Practice Culturally Responsive? Retrieved from https://publicpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/REL_Self_Assessment_rev_Sept_2015.pdf