Nora Murphy on the intersection of evaluation, social justice, trauma, and healing

Hi, I’m Nora F. Murphy, a developmental evaluator deeply committed to social justice. I recently attended the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute (MESI) Spring Training and Donna Mertens’ workshop on Weaving Social Justice and Evaluation Together. Stimulated by the concepts and conversations I have been reflecting on how social justice appears in my practice and had the following insights:

Lessons Learned:

#1: I actively choose evaluations of projects related to systems change to increase social justice and equity and assumed this was enough. Mertens challenged us to go a step further by placing human rights and social justice at the center. While these elements are always present in my evaluations they are not always at the center.

#2: Where people are working towards social justice and equity there is trauma—individual and community, past and present. Evaluators can ignore this and, I suspect, often do. I realized that my most meaningful evaluations did not ignore this but rather recognized and honored this aspect of people’s experiences.

#3: AEA’s Guiding Principles For Evaluators (2004) states that evaluators bear responsibility for general and public welfare. When designing an evaluation I can choose to ignore the trauma or design an evaluation that creates the space to recognize the trauma and promote healing as a way to benefit both individuals and society as a whole.

I will ask myself these questions and commit to the following as I explore the intersection of evaluation, social justice, trauma, and healing:

  • What gets placed at the center? Mertens suggests we place human rights and social justice at the center. I will be more intentional about doing so.
  • How do I attend to what’s in the center? I will consider methods that promote healing through deep listening, bearing witness, and creating opportunities for people to connect to their inner selves and to each other.
  • For what purpose and to what ends do we evaluate? Bob Williams suggested recently in an EvalTalk post (4.4.15) titled “Evaluation’s Warrant” that one possible purpose is to serve humanity. I will deepen my thinking about this idea.
  • Who is evaluating? Educator Parker Palmer (2009) asks himself: “How does the quality of my selfhood form— or deform— the way I relate to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world?” In a similar vein I will ask this question of myself as an evaluator and do the inner work needed to bring my best self to my work.

Rad Resources:

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