Connecting the Intra/Inter/Structural Week: Mohala i ka wai ka maka o ka pua by Kathy Tibbetts

Note: Today’’s AEA365 post contains Hawaiian language words that use certain diacritical markings. We make our best efforts to include these markings to be as culturally and grammatically accurate as possible, however, these markings often display as question marks or boxes, and may display differently on different browsers and devices. For best readability we have omitted some of those marks here. 

Kathy Tibbetts

Aloha, I am Kathy Tibbetts. I have lived my adult life in Hawai?i. For the last 36 years I have worked for organizations founded by inspirational members of the Hawaiian monarchy (Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop and Queen Lili?uokalani) to increase the wellbeing of Native Hawaiians. My role has primarily been research and evaluation related to educational and social services. 

Mohala i ka wai ka maka o ka pua is a Hawaiian saying that reminds us that “flowers thrive where there is water, as thriving people are found where living conditions are good.” (Pukui, 1983, #2178). This saying centers around the importance of wai (fresh water), which is also the Hawaiian word for wealth, and invokes a multi-level systems perspective regarding the wellbeing of individuals and families, communities, and the Hawaiian people.  

The AEA 2018 Guiding Principles and other documents make clear that evaluators have a responsibility to “honor the dignity, well-being, and self-worth of individuals and acknowledge the influence of culture within and across groups” and to “strive to contribute to the common good and advancement of an equitable and just society.” 

In 2019, Lili’uokalani Trust embarked on a statewide journey with over 300 community members to identify factors that impact vulnerable Native Hawaiian families’ ability to break cycles of intergenerational poverty. Mohala i ka wai ka maka o ka pua was used to ground this process. The resulting systems map revealed three primary loops. Two are vicious loops (downward spirals) and one is a virtuous loop (positive spiral). The wai that flows through these loops is described as “the ability to recognize and utilize one’s gifts, create pathways for oneself and others, and increase the strength of the community so that it is less vulnerable to harm and exploitation.” In the virtuous loop, this wai freely flows in productive directions. In the vicious loops it is weak or channeled in unproductive or destructive ways. We heard many stories of individuals who help Native Hawaiian youth break vicious cycles and create virtuous pathways; we called these individuals navigators in honor of the exemplary tradition of wayfinding among Hawaiian voyagers.

The healthy, productive flow of wai moves from the intrapersonal and into the interpersonal and systemic levels. 

1.     At the intrapersonal level, wai is present in the evaluator’s personal/spiritual and professional values and commitment to being pono (doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons). Here, a personal commitment increases abundance through the healing power of traditional Hawaiian values and practices and  understanding of the cumulative trauma impacting Native Hawaiians today.  

2.     The intrapersonal carries over into the interpersonal realm as evaluators live their values by engaging with Native Hawaiian individuals and communities in ways that help them increase positive cultural identity, understanding of the impact of trauma, and efficacy to envision and create positive pathways.  

3.     Work with individuals and communities is necessary but not sufficient to return Native Hawaiians to a state of abundance, hence the necessity of working at the systemic level. Evaluators must seek to understand and address ways in which inequality and injustice are created and sustained by macro systems and institutions. This involves making these dynamics visible and working to create pathways toward deep, sustained change in structures, relationships, and, most critically, mental models (Kania, Kramer & Senge, 2018). 

Rad Resources: 

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Connecting the Intra/Inter/Structural Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from authors who are exploring intuition and the thread that connects the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and the structural in evaluation.

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. 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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