MESI Week: Mary Crave on What’s in Your Wallet? Or Back Pocket? Some handy questions for encouraging culturally sensitive evaluation

I’m Mary Crave. Among the many roles I play as an extension education specialist in Wisconsin, Africa, and elsewhere are those of facilitator of and advocate for participatory evaluation practices that engage vulnerable persons – those who often don’t often have a voice in their community. At the University of Wisconsin I focus on programs that empower youth and women in international agriculture and also teach students who plan to work in community non-profit organizations. It wasn’t until the past few years that I consistently and consciously applied a social justice lens to my work in each of these roles. It was enlightening to see at MESI how others frame their work in social justice.

Hot Tip: Is social justice a goal of the programs you evaluate? While we may not think so at first, it may be. Is the goal of a program to make a change? Improve the common good? Transform people or an organization? Provide access to resources? Do the programs consider who is not involved?

Social justice is about power – who has it, who doesn’t. Therefore, as evaluators we need to understand our own sense of power and privilege as we enter into a community or program.

Rad Resource: Back Pocket Questions One intriguing breakout session at MESI was led by Leah Hakkola, University of Minnesota. Hakkola uses what she calls “Back Pocket Questions” for culturally sensitive evaluation.

A back pocket question is: a strategy we can use to examine privilege and its systemic consequences; a question we can ask ourselves to better understand dominant cultural norms, power dynamics, discrimination and expectations; and, a tool we can use as an entry point into difficult conversations we may need as an evaluator.

Some examples of back pocket questions from Hakkola:

  • Who would be disappointed if they were left out of the evaluation? The design? Evaluation funding? Program participation?
  • How much risk is associated with each group participating in this evaluation?
  • What power am I willing to concede to my stakeholders?
  • How might my actions be supporting systemic oppression or discrimination?
  • How might my actions be colluding with my privilege in this evaluation?
  • What are the unique consequences of my decisions with regard to each stakeholder group?
  • Whose stories and what methods am I privileging in this context?

These were adapted from an AEA 2014 session, “How can we identify, talk effectively about and address privilege and power in the practice of evaluation?” facilitated by Andrea Anderson-Hamilton and Sally Leiderman.

What questions are in your back pocket?

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating MESI Spring Training Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from evaluators who presented at or attended the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute Spring Training. 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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