Decolonizing Evaluation Week: Changing the Future: The Transformative Potential of Decolonized Foresight Practices by Jewlya Lynn and Jen Heeg

Jewlya Lynn
Jen Heeg

Hello friends. I’m Jewlya Lynn, a systems change strategist and evaluator, and I’m Jen Heeg, a researcher and evaluator at the intersection of complexity and equity. We’re here today to continue a conversation we entered at the 2020 AEA conference, and continued in this blog.

If you missed the previous parts, here’s the straightforward premise: 

  1. Evaluation uses tools like theories of change to try to predict the future. However, in social systems, the future is not predictable and instead emerges in nonlinear and unexpected ways. 
  2. Instead, evaluation (and strategy) can lean into the tools of foresight. A good foresight process generates many potential futures, some practical, some fantastical, some negative, some positive. By thinking about many different futures, we can avoid the fallacy of predicting a stable future and instead be prepared to adapt as the system changes.

Foresight has a role in helping evaluation attend to the future.  And, just as importantly, foresight is not simply another marketable set of tools in our toolbox.  

If you’re still with us, and finding some alignment or at least curiosity in these statements, the critical questions are: 

  • Who gets to describe these futures? 
  • What is important to describe within these future stories?  
  • Who is centered in the stories?

As two white American women, we know it is not our future that should be centered, nor the future of others who live with our skin and class privilege. Nor should the Western methods of forecasting be assumed as the “right” way to approach telling future stories. These methods can be reductionist, picking a set of trends or other variables and bumping them up against each other to create a variety of futures. Complex systems aren’t just a couple key variables – they are rich, dynamic, full of interrelated behaviors and impacts. Our Western methods are missing something – something deeper, and more meaningful, in how they tell us about the future and the structural transformations that are required to advance justice. 

These structural transformations that we can describe with foresight tools are best envisioned using decolonized methods, like Afrofuturism, Indigenous Futurism, Causal Layered Analysis, and storytelling approaches that come from rich traditions – over many generations – of describing the future. As we open ourselves to these methods, we do not seek ownership of the methods, nor do we believe we should be the financial beneficiaries of their application. We seek to use the methods in partnership with those whose cultures originated the approaches. 

What this means in real terms is that evaluation consultants (amongst others) should work with futurists who take a decolonized approach, versus focusing on gaining mastery over decolonized methods with the goal of adding to our marketable “methods” toolkits.  Working in the latter way simply perpetuates the colonization mindset; only the former can move us toward dismantling it. 

Rad Resources

Are you ready to bring foresight into your evaluations in ways that break out of our Western mindsets?  To change who is centered, not just in the story, but also as the “expert” bringing the method forward? To step back and create room for new futures to emerge?

Then join us in learning from leading experts like Pupul Bisht, Nicole Bowman, Sohail Inayatullah, and Lonny Brooks and adapting your evaluation practice to bring the complex, messy, non-linear and inclusive future to life.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Decolonizing Evaluation Week. All posts this week are contributed by individuals committed to the decolonization of 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 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.

1 thought on “Decolonizing Evaluation Week: Changing the Future: The Transformative Potential of Decolonized Foresight Practices by Jewlya Lynn and Jen Heeg”

  1. Hello Jewlya & Jen,
    My name is Nausheen and I am currently finishing up my masters through Queens University, and my current work in Program Evaluation brought me to your blog.

    First, I want to take this opportunity to express my wholehearted gratitude for your commitment to the decolonization of evaluation! Your article is thought-provoking and your efforts are very inspiring as you highlight the transformative potential of decolonized foresight practices. I appreciate how you point out that foresight is “not simply another marketable set of tools in our toolbox”. I also commend you for acknowledging your position of privilege and power as you tackle these huge disparities on equity in evaluation. This is difficult, yet necessary work that you are both undertaking.

    This work is something I hold great value to in my role as special education teacher, and an advocate and ally within my community. I currently work as a the Anti-Racism Lead, Social Justice representative, and SOGI Lead within my school. I appreciate the links and references that you share in your Rad Resources section and will surely look to these leading experts that you mention to help me in my work to adapt my evaluation practice, teaching practice, and simply being, in order to bring the complex, non-linear, and inclusive future to life.

    Again, I thank you for all your efforts!

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