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Decolonizing Evaluation Week: Questioning How White Supremacy Shows Up in Our Work by Lauren Beriont

Lauren Beriont

Hi, Lauren Beriont (she/hers) here. I’m one of three owner members of Emergence Collective. We’re a women-owned evaluation firm that in many ways started as an experiment to build a business structure and way of working together fundamentally based in equity (yes we’re definitely still learning). As pointed out by colleagues, building authentic relationships is a core part of decolonizing evaluations. That said, here are 14 words for you to begin to know more about me: twin, originally from New Jersey, lover of all nature, queer, sommelier-hopeful, high energy, nerd.

About ten months ago our team began to identify what decolonizing evaluation would look like by articulating how white supremacy was showing up in our evaluation work and in our organizational culture. Below we’ve shared a table that begins to outline our thinking and offers alternate evaluation applications that are actively anti-racist. One choice we’ve made is to steer clear of the word “decolonized”. We feel decolonizing has an active tense that aligns with our perspective that this work is ongoing and that there is a lot more to a decolonized world than evaluation. 

Join us, help us deepen our thinking. As they say, “The longer you swim in a culture, the more invisible it becomes”, so there is no good time to start like today [yesterday?]. 

Read more about our thinking on decolonizing evaluation in our blog.

ColonialAlternative Evaluation application 
Either/or thinkingBoth/and thinkingMove beyond themes and trends. Explore where there are tensions and contradictions in the data Use evaluation for learning and growth instead of as a pass/fail report
Fear of open conflictConflict as healthySet up time for biweekly feedback using tools like The Management Center’s 2×2 feedbackRegularly gather partner feedback during the evaluation
PerfectionismHigh qualityRegular brief reports and check-ins as opposed to long end-of-project reportsReframe mistakes as opportunities for learning 
Quantity over qualityQuality over quantityUse a mixed methods evaluation approach to gather qualitative and quantitative dataExpand collection beyond vanity metrics (e.g. number of participants)Build in time in budget to pivot evaluation based on community feedback
Progress is bigger, moreProgress is more just, increased wellbeingConsider positive evaluation outcomes that don’t only demonstrate growth
ObjectivityStrong objectivityHave multiple individuals analyze the same data setActively discuss how bias plays a role in evaluation Involve participants, staff and community members in data interpretation
Right to comfortEngage in discomfortPractice feeling uncomfortable. Use the “Risk/Learning Zone” as a model for individual and organizational growth 
Worship of the written wordCommunicate impact in multiple mediumsMove away from lengthy written reports Include more visual presentations and reports with images and diagrams Expand data collection beyond surveys
Sense of urgency Go slow to go fastDesign realistic work plans. Distinguish between realistic short-term and long-term outcomesInvest in relationship building with the community voice at the outset 

Rad Resource: Dismantling Racism Workbook https://www.dismantlingracism.org/ that outlined white supremacy culture, which we used in the “colonized” column above. 

Lesson Learned: It is uncomfortable, yet crucial, to bring this thinking to our nonprofit and foundation partners. We’ve reframed this discomfort as a proxy indicator that we’re on the right track. 

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.

4 thoughts on “Decolonizing Evaluation Week: Questioning How White Supremacy Shows Up in Our Work by Lauren Beriont”

  1. Hi Lauren,

    Like many in the last year I have tried to use my spare time to re-educate myself. To work on being more intersectional, more radical, and leave behind so many of the ugly legacies that Colonialism has left us.

    Our current school systems teach us to compartmentalize. Our classes have clear divisions, and science and math are separate subjects even though they have considerable overlap. And this way of thinking results in us not fully using our learning and knowledge. I am certainly guilty of this. I separate what I learn through my self-education from what I learn in an academic setting, as if they were not both important and significant. As if they both did not shape the way I think and therefore the way I should act.

    I am inspired by your approach, by the effort and the optimist it takes to change systems that are so ingrained in us. Looking at the chart you provided I can see how alterations would make a difference in the evaluation overall but more importantly I think they would change the atmosphere around the evaluation. I can imagine that when outsiders come to evaluate an organization there would be a lot of fear and expectations built around that. This would be harmful to the process of the evaluation itself as the lack of trust can affect communication and the stakeholder’s cooperation.

    I think you and your team did a great job in stating the areas were you are decolonializing your thinking. However, one factor that I felt could have been included is making sure that organizations are practicing cooperative, communal, and collaborative decision making that is inclusive to the input of the team.

    Thank you so much for sharing your work!
    Lu (they/them)

  2. Stephanie Byrne-Shaw

    Hi Lauren,
    Thanks for sharing your work. I have been reflecting a lot about white supremacy and perfectionism in my life and work. I’m learning that perfectionism is a tool of white supremacy through white supremacy’s connection to capitalism. White supremacy teaches us that there is a perfect specimen and we forever feel unworthy trying to achieve this status. Capitalism invites us to buy the remedy to the problem of imperfection; each system actively working to perpetuate the other.
    Program evaluation ultimately seeks to improve, expand, or perfect program systems and outcomes. Systems, frameworks, people, ideas, and policies are either racist or anti-racist, as argued by Ibraam X. Kendi in his book How to be an Anti-Racist (2019). There is no “race-neutral” space to be occupied. “‘Racist’ and “anti-racist” are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced depending on what someone is doing or not doing…..in each moment” (p.23).
    I am intrigued by your work and how evaluation will adapt to this very clear mandate. How can evaluation approaches shift in ability to define success, improvement or “worthiness” in ways that reject the white-supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist values it is founded on?

  3. Hi Lauren,

    Your post has provided a framework to ponder over the “colonized” mental state vis a vis “decolonizing” as the approach in itself is vital for further development.

    In any kind of evaluation, the elements of bias and inclination can creep in without any kind of hint of their presence. The evaluator, despite his or her balanced pathway, can sway by the virtue of “superiority” sense embedded deep within the psyche. This tendency is further reinforced by the verbal cues which are abundant in daily life and engulf the evaluator in a constant strive to remain within. Any supremacy-oriented culture with continuous reinforcement can only cause but one thing, the colonial mindset.

    The words impress upon powerful messages and project the hidden approach of a person using them. The words also express the deep-rooted ideas, preconceived notions, and judgmental mindset and in the course of evaluation create a formidable wall of the predetermined path of bias. The colonial mindset, as mentioned early, the avoidance is vital for evaluation purpose and thus the decolonization. The colonized state of “fear of open conflict” has replaced by “conflict as healthy” and “perfectionism” with “high quality” determine the evaluation application and provide better understanding.
    Thank you for such a remarkable pathway for others.
    Warm regards,
    Saira Fazal

  4. Hi Lauren,

    Your post and research to investigate “decolonizing” evaluation resonated with me as I am an educator who is actively unlearning and working for decolonize education and, specially, the classroom. In fact, I am collaborating with some colleagues in an effort to share ways to begin this work with teachers new to the profession. I appreciate your use of the term “decolonizing” to keep it active and I will think about this as being on-going and active and use “ing” as opposed to “”ed” from now on. I also think that the table was a simple, yet effective way for your colleagues to collaboratively brainstorm how white supremacy shows up in your work. A “rad resource” that I think might benefit your learning (if you haven’t read it already” is “Me and white supremacy: combat racism, change the world and become a good ancestor”, by Layla Saad. It is a book that you need to actively engage with and work through individually to see where your own biases exist. Thanks for sharing the work you are doing here.

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