Cultural Competence Week: Rupu Gupta on Surfacing Cultural Beliefs about the ‘Environment’ for Long-term Equitable Partnerships

Hello, I am Rupu Gupta, Analyst at New Knowledge Organization Ltd., a research and evaluation think tank aiming to increase social knowledge, positive lived experiences, and ecological harmony. I am also a member of the AEA Public Statement on Cultural Competence Dissemination Working Group, and have had the opportunity to explore the ramifications of culture and the need for cultural competence in evaluation of programs advancing environmental goals. The theme for the 2014 AEA conference, Visionary Evaluation for a Sustainable Equitable Future allowed the scope to discuss, debate, and critically explore these ideas in greater detail.

Today, I am sharing the lessons learned from these experiences:

Lessons Learned: It is critical to recognize the multiple systems in play in environmental evaluation contexts. Environmental evaluation work cuts across different social and ecological systems, often involving stakeholders from diverse professional, cultural, and geographic backgrounds. As evaluators, we have to be hyper-mindful about the unique contexts in which environmental education work occurs, so that our work contributes to surfacing the authentic experiences of the groups involved.

Understand the distinct ways involved stakeholders think about the term ‘environment’. Depending upon the context, ideas about the ‘environment’ and consequently the purpose of environmental education can have different connotations for different people. For example, a teacher taking school kids to learn about science by hands-on exploration in a botanic garden has a different understanding of what environmental education is from a community organizer who is engaging a group to plant trees in an urban neighborhood. Evaluators need to recognize the diverse ways stakeholders think about the ‘environment’ to understand the cultural embedded in environmental work.

The principles of cultural competence apply in environmental evaluation contexts. When stakeholders hold distinct beliefs about the ‘environment’, it has the potential for communication barriers between groups, grounded on unique cultural narratives. For the groups to build relationships and work together, examining biases one holds about each other’s cultural understandings of the ‘environment’ is a critical first step, especially in settings where power and privilege can dictate program outcomes. Evaluators can play an active role in these situations, to facilitate an equitable process of communication, for long-term positive societal and ecological change.

Rad Resource: The following resource can help evaluators make the connection between environmental evaluation and the need to develop cultural competence around beliefs on the ‘environment’.

  • A study using Q methodology that identified five distinct ways of prioritizing EE outcomes. All perspectives focused on promoting sustainable living and improved human well-being, but nuances suggested that someone adhering strongly to one of them may feel someone holding a contrasting perspective is working at cross-purposes.


This week, we’re diving into issues of Cultural Competence in Evaluation with AEA’s Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation Dissemination Working Group. 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.


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