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Maya Pilgrim on Seeing evaluation as social justice work

I’m Maya Pilgrim, the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault’s Evaluation Manager.  My work has focused on the primary prevention of sexual violence – addressing the root causes to prevent sexual violence from happening in the first place.  It means addressing systemic attitudes and inequities that while often similar, can look different according to context, a classic wicked problem.

In early September, at the National [Anti-]Sexual Assault Conference, I posed the question, “What if we saw evaluation AS social justice work?”  As not just a means to an end, but a means AND an end.  I shared a few of the Eight Key Feminist Evaluation Principles to frame our conversation:

  1. Evaluation is a political activity.
  2. Knowledge is culturally, socially, and temporally contingent.
  3. Knowledge should be a resource of and for the people who create, hold, and share it.
  4. There are multiple ways of knowing (and some ways are privileged over others).

Lesson Learned: Consistent through the various conversations on what we need to change about our current evaluation practices were concepts of reciprocity, shared power, and centering those most affected.  After returning home, I found myself sitting in a meeting feeling frustrated.   Once again, things were looking less equitable and reciprocal than I’d hoped.  I realized that in many professional contexts, a major barrier to making evaluation an extension of social justice work and centering those most affected by systemic inequities was “the deadline.”

For many mainstream non-profit organizations trying to improve their evaluation practices, including perspectives and knowledge of those who are marginalized often requires going beyond well-worn networks and established work plans and finding ways to compensate those whose knowledge aren’t normally compensated.  All of this takes more time than is often budgeted in program planning.  If we want evaluation to be an extension of social justice work, funders, organizations, and programs have to be creative and innovative in re-envisioning the assumed processes and timelines for designing and evaluating programs.  Have you or your organization developed a creative or innovative way to do this?  Don’t keep it to yourself!

Rad Resources:

Brisolara, Seigart and SenGupta’s Feminist Evaluation and Research: Theory and Practice is a great place to start.

Community at the Center, highlights themes that overlapped substantially with our conversations around evaluation as social justice in terms of reciprocity, sharing power and centering those most affected.

The National Latino Network’s Building Evidence Toolkit utilizes many of the key feminist evaluation principles.

Developmental Evaluation Exemplars highlights how the responsive and flexible nature of DE evaluation puts these principles into action.

AEA365 Blog: searching “Social Justice” gives you access to all the previously shared wisdom and resources by Bessa Whitmore, Nora Murphy, MQP, Liz Zadnik and more.

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@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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