Cultural Competence Week: Asma Ali and Anthony Heard on Beyond the Findings: Reflections on the Culturally Competent Evaluator’s Role

Asma Ali and Anthony Heard, Professional Development Committee co-chairs for the Chicagoland Evaluation Association (CEA), say “Hello!” from the Windy City.

CEA’s professional development presentations in 2014 have focused on various strategies employed by professional evaluators to work with their clients and stakeholders. Defining “culture” to include environmental context, attendees agreed that evaluators have a responsibility to make findings relevant to diverse stakeholder groups. Our members also identified the following tips for thinking “beyond [research] analysis and findings”:

  • Understand evaluation context. Cultural competence includes reflection about the evaluators’ role and the evaluation circumstances. Contextualizing research findings and making them relevant to various diverse stakeholders is an important part of an evaluator’s work. This includes understanding the various political and social contexts of the program, as well as the purpose of the evaluation and potential use of findings.
  • Set evaluation expectations early in project and revise expectations as needed. Stakeholder relationships are an essential part of an evaluators’ work. To manage these relationships, evaluators must set expectations with their stakeholders in a manner that is relevant to them. Setting expectations can be managed formally with an evaluation plan or work process flow or with informal discussions or updates. In both cases, early and frequent communication with stakeholders is important.
  • Make the evaluation findings relevant to more than one stakeholder group. Evaluations are often commissioned by lead agency/program officials. Agency cultures may be very different in other stakeholder groups, leading to distinct perspectives about the findings. Evaluators may be required to disseminate findings in multiple methods (short or long reports, presentations, town hall meetings) to accommodate different learning and discussion styles among stakeholders.
  • Develop appropriate relationships with stakeholder groupsEvaluators have a distinct culture that influences their relationships. Internal evaluators may have easier access to or existing relationships with stakeholders but may be vulnerable to internal politics and expectations that don’t encourage best evaluation practice. External evaluators may need to spend additional time developing relationships with stakeholders, but may have a more clearly defined, evaluation-focused role.
  • Solicit input from fellow evaluators. Whether you are new to cultural competence or a seasoned expert on the topic, AEA and local AEA affiliates can be an extremely effective resource for perspectives you had not considered.

Lesson Learned: Understanding evaluation context, setting expectations, making findings relevant, addressing multiple stakeholder needs and developing appropriate stakeholder relationships are all involved in incorporating cultural competence in evaluation. Each strategy also fits into the others. For example, understanding your role as an internal evaluator and developing appropriate relationships with stakeholders will make it easier to understand the evaluation context, set expectations, and make findings relevant for stakeholders. Most of all, enjoy the discovery process!

This week, we’re diving into issues of Cultural Competence in Evaluation with AEA’s Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation Dissemination Working Group. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


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