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Decolonization in Evaluation Week: Articulating Our Values as a Path to Decolonization by Andrea Nelson Trice

We measure what we value. This is not news. But do we recognize what Americans commonly value?

My name is Andrea Nelson Trice, PhD, and I’m the president of Catalyst Research LLC.  I spent part of my childhood living in the Peruvian rainforest and that experience still shapes my work. I have conducted research on cross-cultural power dynamics for more than two decades. My most recent publication, Strong Together: Building Partnerships across Cultures in an Age of Distrust, draws from 90 interviews with American and Majority World leaders. Together we explore the human complexities of international development work.

As I conducted this research, I heard two themes around values that we must wrestle with as we work to decolonize evaluation.

Lessons Learned

1) Values Related to Outcomes

Regarding international development work, Americans tend to value innovation, scaling, efficiency (e.g., one- to three-year project timelines), and concrete, observable outcomes. We also tend to value increasing individuals’ material wealth and economic stability through our work.

Majority World leaders, however, emphasized different values and outcomes. They spoke of the desire to restore what had been broken rather than bring innovations from the outside. They emphasized empowering individuals and communities – restoring them – by helping them experience hope, dignity, and trust again.

They did not emphasize timelines or scaling or concrete, observable outcomes and in fact some spoke of wanting to “run” when they heard Westerners talk about scaling. They also defined wealth more broadly than we often do, conceptualizing it to include the wealth of healthy relationships, of being respected in one’s community, of contentment.

Marigold Adu, a Ghanaian entrepreneur, helped me understand these different values. As she thought about Americans who engage in international development she offered, “Go ahead and fail. What you consider wealth is different from what we consider wealth or a good life.”

Traditionally, those who brought the funds to the table had the privilege of deciding how progress and success would be measured and reported. We cannot assume that all of humanity values the same things. We don’t. Decolonizing evaluation must first identify the values that lie behind program goals and then do the hard work of adjusting goals to reflect the priorities of those we seek to help.

2) Values Related to Americans’ Assets – and Deficits

If we are to decolonize evaluation, we must also wrestle with what we esteem in each other. We as American evaluators prize our technical skills, formal training, and the global connections we bring to international development projects. But too often we don’t recognize the essential assets local people possess if evaluation work is to be decolonized.

These assets include possessing social capital within a culture, knowledge of local resources, understanding of what it means to live in poverty, and knowledge of how to effectively empower vulnerable people within their culture.

As Joachim Ewechu, co-founder and CEO of the Ugandan enterprise SHONA observed, “Americans need to respect what we bring as well. Empower us by respecting who we are.”

Decolonizing evaluation will not be accomplished strictly by using new techniques. The challenge is more complex—and more human than that. Decolonizing evaluation requires honest conversations about values and assumptions as well as shared decision-making around how our differing values will be represented in an evaluation.

Rad Resources

If you’d like to join in a discussion around these ideas, I will share more in my 2023 AEA conference session scheduled for Thursday, October 12th at 3:45 p.m. Also, Kurt Williams and Travis Mayo will present on evaluating intangibles such as hope and dignity that same day at 2:00 p.m.

Measuring Hope: A Quantitative Approach with Validation in Rural Myanmar by Jeffrey R. Bloem, Duncan Boughton, Kyan Htoo, Aung Hein, and Ellen Payongayong

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Decolonization in Evaluation Week with some of our colleagues. 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.

2 thoughts on “Decolonization in Evaluation Week: Articulating Our Values as a Path to Decolonization by Andrea Nelson Trice”

  1. Thank you so much for this post. Both lessons resonate deeply with me. You have written them so clearly and the fact that they are grounded in the interviews you did make them all the more powerful. I have found that in many contexts within the U.S., the same lessons apply, and we evaluators (as well as program leadership and staff) have a lot of work to do in that regard.

    1. Andrea Nelson Trice

      I am just now seeing your comment. I’m sorry about that!
      Thank you for taking the time to write and to confirm your experience. I really appreciate that – and your kind words.

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