Breaking Free: Transforming the Practice of Evaluation: Tired Narratives about Talent in Evaluation by Clare Nolan

Greetings! This is Clare Nolan, co-founder of Engage R+D and the Funder & Evaluator Affinity Network. I’m interested in how evaluators can work together to transform evaluation into a stronger force for racial equity and justice.

Over the years, I’ve been involved in a variety of conversations about the evaluation field’s oft-lamented “lack of diversity.” Ideas for addressing this frequently focus on building the skillsets of emerging BIPOC evaluators and improving hiring and management practices of primarily white-led firms. But is lack of diversity really what’s at issue here? What are we missing when our field and thought leaders are mostly white?

This framing and supposed solutions problematize things at the level of individuals and behaviors, avoiding deeper consideration of how systemic racism and white dominant norms impede the success of minoritized groups in evaluation and ultimately limit incorporation of a richness of perspectives and broader ways of knowing. As Dr. Vidhya Shanker famously put it, “I’m sometimes asked, ‘Why are there so few people of color in evaluation?’ I flip the question: ‘Why is evaluation so white?’”

Over the past couple years, I’ve been partnering with colleagues participating in this week’s AEA365 series to explore issues related to talent, equity, and diversity in our field. This blog post serves as an introduction to our constellation of efforts. It unpacks common language used about talent, illustrates how it often reflects and reinforces a white racial frame, and invites us to let go of these tired narratives in favor of others that can help us make progress on equity and justice.

Hot Tip

  • Pay attention to how funders and evaluators talk about issues of talent. Are they placing the onus for problems on individual people and their behaviors, or on systems of oppression and the role they may be playing in upholding those systems?
  • Recognize that racism and elitism are embedded in the roots of evaluation and philanthropy.
  • Consider too how capitalism shapes the practice of evaluation, contributing to what Dr. Michael Arnold recently identified as a “fine line between inclusion and exploitation.”
  • Identify ways to partner with others to advance the contributions and leadership of BIPOC evaluators in ways they find supportive and meaningful. Many hearts, hands, and minds will be needed to dismantle oppression in our field and we all have a role to play.

Rad Resources


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.

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