Breaking Free: Transforming the Practice of Evaluation: Listening for Change: Reflections from Evaluators of Color by Pilar Mendoza and Cristina Whyte

Hello!  We are Pilar Mendoza and Cristina Whyte of Engage R+D. As evaluators of color who often work in predominantly white spaces, we recognize that BIPOC voices are often absent in philanthropy. We are passionate about transforming the field of evaluation into one that amplifies BIPOC voices within communities and places of work to ensure that BIPOC perspectives and contributions are included in shaping our field.

How can we create an evaluation ecosystem that truly values diverse perspectives and experiences, and dismantles white dominant culture?  We can start by listening to those who have been historically marginalized in our field to understand what it will take to support and amplify new and existing voices.  With support from The James Irvine Foundation, we hosted a series of listening sessions with evaluators of color based in California who work with philanthropic clients to better understand their experiences working the field and what supports they would value. Our colleagues of color spoke candidly about the challenges they face navigating a field that is predominantly white and that values narrowly defined notions of expertise (e.g., academic, methodological) over lived experience and other ways of knowing. They share how our field has taken little responsibility over its white dominant ways: “The narrative… is that consulting is cutthroat and competitive: You can either do it or you can’t; you either have the skills or you don’t. The narrative hasn’t been, ‘We suck at keeping people of color.’”

In this brief, we invite you to listen to some of the key takeaways we heard from these conversations, including recommendations for how evaluation firms and funders can work together to dismantle oppression in the evaluation field.

Hot Tips

  • Think about the cultural norms within your organization. When organizations have difficulty retaining staff of color, they often perceive the person of color should change rather than the ecosystem that reinforces inequities. Persistent challenges with retention should signal a need for the organization to self-reflect on its culture and make changes.
  • Intentionally resource and prioritize mentorship and professional development. The evaluators of color we spoke with agreed on the need for workplaces to invest in their staff. A need for field-specific skill building is not unique to evaluators of color. A lack of training for entry-level evaluators, however, is a barrier to job satisfaction and retention, especially when compounded by the structural obstacles that many evaluators of color face upon entering the field.
  • Support affinity groups and/or communities of practice.  In addition to professional development opportunities, many evaluators of color expressed a strong desire to connect with peers to share their experiences and re-imagine the evaluation field.  For example, evaluators of color in Minnesota formed their own community of practice, and this effort might serve as a model for others.  And, at Engage R+D, we created affinity spaces for our BIPOC and white staff. How might evaluation firms build these supports into their organizations?

Rad Resources

  • Check out our Listening for Change brief to learn more about this work and what types of support evaluators of color value.
  • To learn more about White dominant norms and how they might show up in organizations and in practice see white supremacy culture by Tema Okun.
  • To learn more about why this issue is important to philanthropy, check out the Irvine Foundation’s blog post which offers suggestions for how foundations can support evaluators of color.
  • To learn more about the experience of people of color working in philanthropy, check out Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy’s Dissonance & Disconnects report.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Breaking Free: Transforming the Practice of Evaluation Week. 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@eval.org . 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.

1 thought on “Breaking Free: Transforming the Practice of Evaluation: Listening for Change: Reflections from Evaluators of Color by Pilar Mendoza and Cristina Whyte”

  1. Hello Pilar and Christina!

    Thank you for your very informative article. I appreciate how you have called attention to the concerns that evaluators of color face. In my own experiences as a woman of color, I also feel similar challenges in my workplace. When I was first hired, I felt that I was in a progressive school district, but over the years I have been surprised with the various accounts of what I have seen, heard and experienced. As K-12 educators we are fed so much information on how to respond to students, parents, and staff. Although, most of us try to put the modern day standards of behaviour and use of respectful language, into practice.

    Positions of leadership within the school board are predominantly held by those who are visibly “white.” The school board did have a token person of color who was employed as the “Anti-racism and Diversity Mentor,” for the entire district. She held the lone responsibility in being a voice for a wide array of people but ultimately, she did not feel supported and therefore left the job. Your example of feeling the weight of the community, being a lone voice and not conforming explains her situation well. It was also challenging in that some of the teachers resisted the idea of integrating the various contributions of BIPOC into their teaching. Dean-Coffey (2020) attests to facing similar struggles as an evaluator who is consistently faced with navigating through misogyny, racism, ageism, and classism including the weight of the BIPOC community.

    I am uncertain about what it will take for K-12 educators who do not seem interested, to listen for change. I agree that views do not need to be polarized if something does not automatically make sense, but to have a curiosity about the “gray” area, to foster deeper understandings is welcomed. WestEd (2021) has created an evaluation guide that outlines how to prepare, design, collect and analyze data, plan and develop products as well as disseminate information. This looks like a progressive tool that can be used to implement professional development workshops for anti-racism. With this tool, the determinant would be to challenge individual attitudes and dynamics around racism in the school setting.

    References:
    Dean-Coffey, J. (2020, July 15). Tension 3 – individuals vs organizations VS Systems. Equitable Evaluation. Retrieved November 17, 2021, from https://www.equitableeval.org/blog-main/2020/6/10/tension3.
    WestEd. (2021). Anti-racist evaluation strategies: A guide for evaluation teams. Retrieved from https://www.wested.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/AntiRacist_Evaluations_Final.pdf.

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