Equity in Evaluation Series: Engaging with Our Values
Engaging with Our Values
by Eleanor Hill
In the first blog in our series on equity in evaluation, Laura Sundstrom shared her experience of doing the personal work to bring equity into evaluation. Have you ever thought about how our values, as evaluators or people who engage in evaluation, influence our work? This second blog in the series explores the idea that evaluators’ experiences and values influence their work, the danger that these values and experiences can reinforce systems of oppression, and some strategies for counteracting that.
Values Are Not Neutral
Evaluators and the clients we work with are not value neutral or objective; we all bring our own values and experiences to the work we do. We make the decisions about what is and is not included in our evaluation work. Our values and experiences impact all aspects of evaluation – the questions we ask, the methods we use to address questions, the decisions we make when we collect and analyze data, and the reporting and interpretation process are all influenced by our values and experiences.
We cannot eliminate our values and experiences from our work, nor should we. However, we do need to take steps to ensure one set of values and experiences does not dominate our evaluation work. The evaluation field is largely dominated by white scholars, methodologies, and approaches. Evaluators are typically trained in approaches and methodologies that are steeped in Western, white, male, and cisgender values. These methodologies inherently reflect the values of those who created them. We run the risk that our evaluations reflect dominant Western values and narratives that do not leave space for the values and experiences of BIPOC communities and reinforce systems of oppression.
The Equitable Evaluation Initiative Framework shares how what is valued in the United States impacts the work we do:
“In the United States, we value whiteness, patriarchy, simplicity, and capitalism. This translates into what we believe to be true, what we hold as valid, what we accept as evidence and what we perceive as truth. By not naming or interrogating what is implicit, we are generating knowledge and creating a historical record through our efforts that is full of half truths - and in some cases lies.”
As a white woman taught in Western institutions to place value on Western methodologies and approaches, I am reflecting on how my actions reinforce dominant narratives that uphold systems of oppression and how I can challenge these narratives.
One way I know I must challenge dominant narratives is to recognize the limits of my own perspective and seek other perspectives. Often, we are not aware of our own biases and assumptions and we do not realize we are perpetuating dominant narratives. As evaluators, recognizing the limits of our own perspectives is crucial to ensuring the evaluations we conduct reflect the experiences of diverse actors.
Engaging Outside of White Institutions
There are several things we can do to challenge our perspectives. We can openly speak about our experiences and values and identify how they shape the assumptions we make, and we can encourage ourselves and those around us to challenge those assumptions. We can seek out perspectives and experiences different than our own. There are many ways to do this that do not put the burden on BIPOC individuals and communities to explain their views and experiences.
We can turn to books and blogs to educate ourselves about experiences and perspectives different to our own. We can educate ourselves on the extractive nature of Western approaches to research and learn about methodologies that challenge typical Western, white, male, and cisgender ways of knowing. I recommend Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s “Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People”. We can learn about how the structure of the evaluation field has made the work of BIPOC evaluators almost invisible and how we can change that. Check out this webinar by Vidhya Shanker and Carolina De La Rosa Mateo: “Why is Evaluation So White?"
Perhaps most importantly of all, we can change the way we work. We can support the work of BIPOC colleagues, be ready to learn from BIPOC colleagues and communities, and recognize and celebrate methods and approaches to evaluation that center experiential and community knowledge. We can invite more people into our evaluation work from the very beginning to ensure the questions we are asking, the way we are asking them, the kinds of data we gather, and how we interpret data reflect the experiences of all partners, especially those whose voices are typically not heard. I like these considerations from Jewlya Lynn and Hallie Preskill for incorporating cultural context and responsiveness into evaluation.
What are your go-to resources or strategies to challenge the dominant narrative? We would love to hear them!