AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators



Scribing: Vidhya Shanker on Lessons Learned from Evaluation Leaders

This is Vidhya Shanker, a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota. At Evaluation 2010, I served as a scribe for Roundtable Presentation 111, Maximizing Our Collective Talent: Conversations with Senior Evaluators, which brought evaluation leaders together with novice and mid-career evaluators to engage in evaluation discourse around 8 different issue tables. I chose it because sessions more typically portray people of color and indigenous people as participants—and increasingly staff—of programs being evaluated rather than as evaluation leaders.

Lessons Learned: These are from one table facilitated by Katherine Tibbetts on women and evaluation and another by Stafford Hood on culturally responsive evaluation:

  • The Great Society benefited middle-class, white women who gained employment in social work programming. Women constitute the numerical majority and some of the most recognizable names in evaluation. Considered in context, however, the “caring” fields (education, health, and social services) that feed into evaluation are majority-female, and yet the most recognizable names remain male.
  • Intersectionality refers to the entanglement of multiple, overlapping, sometimes conflicting matrices along which we all experience power/ privilege/ entitlement as well as marginalization. Whether approached through race/ ethnicity, gender/ sexuality, and/ or another entry point, evaluation involves self-knowledge, critical thinking, and reflexivity.
  • Language can perpetuate or disrupt existing power dynamics and stereotypes. For example, we tend to objectify segments of the population (e.g., “single mothers”). Those exhibiting symptoms of social problems are often pathologized and treated as “the problem.” Similarly, we operate on assumptions of freedom, rationality, and individual choice, although local and global contexts and histories open and constrain all our choices. Even the conceptualization of a question is a political act, as is how that question is subsequently framed and investigated.
  • Working toward social justice involves understanding the political implications of our actions and paying attention to consequential validity. To what extent, for example, do we respect separate spaces? To what extent do we validate relational ways of knowing?

Great Resources:

  • Hood, S., Hopson, R. K. & Frierson, H. T. (2005). The role of culture and cultural context: A mandate for inclusion, the discovery of truth and understanding in evaluative theory and practice. Greenwich: IAP.
  • LaFrance, J. & Nichols, R. (2010). Reframing evaluation: Defining an Indigenous Evaluation Framework. Canadian Journal of Evaluation, 23, 13-31.

Hot Tip: Espousing critical theory (see New Directions for Evaluation 127), and certainly identifying as a member of a marginalized group, provide no guarantees for conducting feminist or culturally competent evaluation. For example, being in positions of relative power, many evaluators attribute resistance among program staff and participants to their categories as “false consciousness” instead of entertaining the possibility that this refusal may be a legitimate critique of and resistance against the categories themselves.

At AEA’s 2010 Annual Conference, session scribes took notes at over 30 sessions and we’ll be sharing their work throughout the winter on aea365. 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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