I am Susan Wolfe of Susan Wolfe and Associates, LLC. I am a community psychologist. My evaluation portfolio includes evaluating initiatives to reduce health and educational inequities rooted in systemic racism. Reducing inequities and systemic racism requires decolonizing white-supremacy based practices, including evaluation practices. My work requires a deep dive into my own place of privilege and how I approach evaluation, including the methods I use. As I engage in deep dives, I often go down many rabbit holes.
Some rabbit holes are worth the detour. Continue to follow them.
One of the most recent rabbit hole trips began with a chapter by Guba and Lincoln (1994), followed by a book by Shawn Wilson (2008). Both provided a framework for me to think about the methods I use by examining the paradigms that guide my inquiry, and their relationship to colonizing practices. I will share what I learned from them here.
- Guba, E.G., & Lincoln, Y.S. (1994). Competing paradigms in qualitative research.
- Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods.
The first paradigm is Positivism whereby evaluation relies on quantifying things and may incorporate experimental design. The evaluator acts as a “disinterested” party who informs policy and practice from a position external to the evaluation “subjects.” In this case, outcomes have been decided by “experts” often with token or no input from participants. The programs and outcomes are usually designed to change the participants without recognition of the context.
The second paradigm is Post-positivism which includes gathering data using qualitative methods and then rigorously analyzing it, often quantifying the results. The analysis is generally performed by people from outside the focal population who interpret the meaning through their own world experience. Use of most frequent themes may result in statements made by only one person being discounted – possibly the one statement made by someone brave enough to tell the truth.
Critical theory, the third paradigm, recognizes that evaluators need more reflective assessments and critiques of society and culture that consider power structures and oppression. Reality is more fluid than one fixed truth. Evaluation requires transactional dialogue between the evaluator and participants with the understanding that reality has been shaped by our cultural and other values.
The fourth paradigm is Constructivism, which recognizes that there is not one reality but there are many. Realities are specific to people and locations. Evaluators and participants come together to create common meaning.
Examining the paradigm that underlies your methods is important because the paradigm influences the goal. The goal of positivism and post-positivism is to generate knowledge for the sake of knowledge and learning. The goal of critical theory and constructivism is to create change.
I am working to decolonize my evaluation practice. This includes working more closely with community members in a more participatory way consistent with critical theory and constructivism. Eliminating racial disparities requires addressing systemic racism. As a white person of privilege, it is important that the evaluative information I gather reflects the voices and perspectives of community members. Methods based in critical theory and constructivism paradigms help me to incorporate these voices.
Evaluation is only worth doing and only ethical if the findings are used to improve the reality of the participants. The utility of the findings starts with your methods and the extent to which the voice of the participants is reflected in them.
Smith, L.T. (2021). Decolonizing methodologies.
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