It is likely that you’ve heard issues of power discussed as an important consideration in evaluation contexts. But what does power actually look like in evaluation and what do we do about it? We are Jaimie Haugen and Jill Anne Chouinard, researchers and evaluators who are interested in the concept of power in Culturally Responsive Evaluation contexts. Jill is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Jaimie is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at The University of Central Florida. Through exploring the manifestations of power across multiple evaluations, we discovered some Lessons Learned about power dimensions and Hot Tips in addressing power in meaningful and practical ways.
Power is difficult to conceptualize, let alone identify. Sometimes it is visible, but it can also be hidden and invisible depending on the context, evaluation, and situation. This dynamic concept often works at various levels and dimensions as depicted in our figure below. Recognizing the dimensions through which power might manifest is the first step in being able to address power during an evaluation.
- Relational Power: Power influences relationships between and among all members of the evaluation.
- Political Power: Political agendas often shape all aspects of the evaluation process, including decisions about who can and cannot participant, goals of the evaluation, and interpretation of findings.
- Discursive Power: Although often less tangible, power can manifest in internalized values, norms, and beliefs of evaluators and participants.
- Historical/Temporal Power: Historical experiences often shape current realities and the past experiences of evaluators, participants, or stakeholders can greatly influence the evaluation process.
What can we do to address power in evaluation contexts? Below we outline a few suggestions in the literature that have been used to meaningfully address power in practice.
- Evaluation Methods: Consider using mixed methods approaches to allow participants to contribute in a variety of ways. Collaborative as opposed to top down approaches can help mitigate relational power dynamics and elicit marginalized voices.
- Start with Power Rather Than End With It: Instead of reflecting on influences of power after the evaluation, consider starting with intentional and proactive discussions on all forms of power that might impact the evaluation process.
- Take Time to Understand Context: Make every effort to truly understand and immerse yourself in the cultural context of participants and communities when working with individuals.
- Ask Important Questions: Before you start the evaluation process, reflect on important questions such as “how are participants selected?”, “which voices are being heard and why?”, “whose agenda is driving this process?”, “who is interpreting the findings and why; what biases might they have?”
Although power can never fully be diminished, we can take steps to address power in our evaluations, which ultimately allows us to conduct valid, quality, and inclusive evaluations.
- Participatory Evaluation Up Close: A Review and Integration of Research-based Knowledge by J. Bradley Cousins and Jill Anne Chouinard.
- Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1872-1977 by Michel Foucault
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