Decolonization in Evaluation Week: Is Evaluation for Liberation or Assimilation? by Geri Peak

I’m Geri Peak, Chief Insight Facilitator at Two Gems Consulting Services, where I practice exploring spiritual demography: coherence between universal principles and evaluative practice. In the quest to free our world from the ravages of far west eurasian imperialism, the word trickery with decolonization continues. 

While increasingly popular, decolonization’s use veers from its true intent — the return of land stolen

Is this just woke-signaling to cover settler fragility or authentic striving to awaken our field?   

Decolonization’s specific meaning remains untenable for those whose heritage or current practices perpetuate harm and marginalization of Brown and Black communities. Many “kind-hearted,” “like-minded”, self-defined white people can’t conceive how the return of land could work. What, then, is the purpose of decolonizing evaluation? What metaphor are evaluators asking this term to represent?  Could an overhaul of how decolonization is envisaged and employed guide us towards liberation?

The nonprofit industrial complex arose from the vacuum left by destroying our mechanisms for mutual thriving during centuries of intentional extraction and attempted extinction. Many indigenous examples persist. The so-called service industry ultimately meets needs through fostering dependency and assimilation. 

Efforts such as the one illustrated below seek to identify and root out those places where colonized ideas persist. While compelling, they miss the point that we are the vectors upon which these practices depend. Until we transform, the solutions promoted will map right back to exploitation.

Evaluation requires objectivity, yet compensation is driven by alignment with, if not complete influence by, those who pay for our services. In serving the interests of those who fund our work, despite increasing interest in equitable practice, true reform seems perpetually out of reach.  Why might that be? In part, our growing acceptance of equitable evaluation points not towards liberation, but assimilation. Equity seeks to assure beneficial access and outcomes by neutralizing barriers. Equitable reforms reconfigure systemic pathways to widen paths to wellbeing defined by norms which uphold dominant culture definitions of wellbeing, externalizing the focus of interventions onto those most abused, fueling various economic engines that drive social “stability.” While equity is important for progress, refining paths towards dominant norms as the endgame reinforces existing systems and renders their targets antithetical to authentic systems transformation and ultimate societal viability. 

Advancement of social systems requires radical mindset shifts and collaboration from all parties. But there are other barriers: rejecting spiritual realities as unscientific or indoctrination and ignoring traumatizing realities through mechanisms such as cognitive dissonance. It requires the transformation of ourselves and our systems as mutual and simultaneous, intentional practices of healing and advancement. And it requires cooperation and collaboration to counter the paralyzing fear that fuels hate, division and partisan entrenchment. Reforming our systems requires a new mind and a new heart that will demand the questioning and reformation of our practices and trajectories. 

Dare we, the people of rationality, take up love as a universal transformative force? I posit this is essential. Otherwise, we will continue to fall prey to false rationality, blinding our collective sight to observe only what perpetuates harm. 

Hazel Symonette’s body of work on the self as responsive instrument curates our collective learning journey on honing our soul/mind to expand our knowing and influence our action. I invite you to continue the journey in New Orleans at a daylong workshop that expands my webinar into an interactive experience for detoxing from dominant system myths and builds capacity for two-fold transformation.


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.

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