AEA’S DEI Working Group Week: Using Metrics & Assessments for Transformative Equity at AEA: Reflections on our Journey by Nisaa Kirtman, Leah Q. Peoples, Ayesha Boyce, Dylan Felt, and Stephen Maack

As current members of the AEA DEI Working Group, we also serve as subgroup committee members dedicated to DEI-related metrics & assessments: Nisaa Kirtman, Senior Research Associate at Rockman et al. Cooperative Inc; Leah Q. Peoples, independent consultant at Transformative Research; Ayesha Boyce, Associate Professor at Arizona State University, Dylan Felt, Research Project Manager at Northwestern University; Stephen Maack, Owner of REAP Change Consultants. We are tasked with developing “DEI” metrics to help AEA understand the extent to which they are actively engaging in meaningful DEI work. In this blog post we present two tensions we faced and ways we can work through them, with the hope that sharing our experience can inspire others. 

Different definitions of “DEI” and “DEI” work

We use “DEI” in quotes because within our group we have differing interpretations of “DEI” work. The spectrum ranges from a focus on representation and inclusion (especially for folks who experience marginalization within AEA) to a focus on the liberation and institutional transformation of AEA (a move toward a co-created institution that serves all members’ needs). Working group members hold strong positions on what this work looks like. For some DEI is a progressive step forward to measure superficial but useful data that can be used to make institutional changes. For others, the use of a term like “DEI” feels like a commitment to measures that do little to fundamentally capture the ways dominant culture and whiteness prevails within the organization. With such different conceptualizations of “the work,” there are also different expectations for this committee and the work we produce.

Establishing benchmarks against which to measure progress on DEI

Given our task of developing and identifying metrics for measuring DEI organizationally, and ongoing discussion of methodological approaches to document progress towards meeting DEI goals, it is difficult for AEA to hold itself accountable and develop data-informed policies and practices that might help us reach our goals. There seems to be two basic approaches to establishing benchmarks against which to measure progress on DEI: cross-organizational comparisons over time, and internally developed goals at AEA with the intention of informing indicator-specific milestones. Do we situate our progress towards achieving DEI goals in the context of the most and least successful professional societies of similar scope and mission? 

How to Work Through these Tensions

We revisit and become intentional about defining our partnership, power, and accountability. We do this by asking critical questions like:

  • What are our community agreements or how we will work together? 
  • Who are we accountable to and how can we hold each other accountable?
  • When aspects of systemic oppression permeate our relationship, thinking, and ways of doing, how will we engage in healthy restorative conflict resolution, individually and collectively?

As members of AEA’s DEI Working Group, it’s gratifying to see the shared values of those working in equity, social justice, and racial justice spheres, similarly steeped in humanity, interpersonal growth, and, importantly, “DEI” accountability. Despite our challenges, our efforts still have the ability to bear more fruit using our approach of (1) pacing our work, (2) deepening the focus on values and true accountability via metrics, and (3) facilitating honest questions about meeting DEI goals. Our most powerful story of progress will emerge when AEA triangulates all their data to identify where we are making strides and where we need to focus future efforts.

Rad Resources 

The American Evaluation Association is hosting DEI Week with our colleagues in AEA’s DEI Working Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from working group members. 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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