Decolonizing Evaluation Week: Re-Imagining Evaluation through Decolonial Practices by Rayna Brown and Esrea Perez-Bill

Hi, everyone! This is Rayna Brown (She/her) and Esrea Perez-Bill (She/her/They/them) from Northwestern University’s EDIT program. We are here to expand on our Think Tank at the EViE conference in May 2021: “Re-Imagining Evaluation through Decolonial Practices.” However, it is incredibly important to acknowledge that these conversations have been ongoing for years preceding this moment. Indigenous evaluators have been doing this work, and we wish to honor them, and stand in solidarity with them.

A point of reflection we ask ourselves, and other non-Indigenous evaluators: what is a land acknowledgement, without giving land back? Learn about land acknowledgement and the Indigenous lands that you are on.

During the initial planning stages for our Think Tank, we asked ourselves, why are we here? We decided on these principles:

  • To not “decolonize academia”
  • Identify the colonial practices in our work
  • Identify points of disruption
  • Facilitate reflection and interrogation of participants’ colonial and decolonial evaluation practices
  • Co-Create with other emerging evaluators
  • Build community

The settler colonial violence that has built the Western university has many faces. Among these faces is the depoliticization of non-western knowledge systems and movements. Tuck and Yang discuss the “easy absorption, adoption, and transposing of decolonization [as] yet another form of settler appropriation” and how decolonization “cannot easily be grafted onto pre-existing discourses/frameworks, even if they are critical.” In an effort to resist continuing the academic legacy of metaphorizing decolonization, we were inspired to center practice-based work at the heart of this Think Tank, which would also, ultimately, ensure we are  generating community. 

We agreed to craft a space that was inspired by decolonial and Indigenous research, thought, and evaluation. In that space, we worked with participants towards identifying colonial practices in our work, and points of disruption. 

Lesson Learned

We understand settler colonialism to be a historicized, ongoing process. And, because we understand this, our disruptions must also be ongoing.

“Have you read Decolonizing Methodologies?” was one of the first questions we asked. We began with a little knowledge of the book, a couple of articles and slides from past conference presentations. We embarked on necessary dialogue about decolonizing our work in evaluation and research. 

We committed to reading the book, creating a reading group, and let this inspire the work we were doing at our research and evaluation center. In what ways were we on the right track to engage in decolonization practices, and in which ways were we in opposition?  This was our approach to interrogate the now, and envision something different.  These conversations turned into an interaction workshop with our staff, which led to our workshop conference. What stayed the same with the audiences was the energy to have honest conversation about colonization/decolonization in our collective work. 

As we continue the momentum in our specific institution, we realized we must find ways to prioritize these conversations, and then make the valuable lessons our practice. This was our start! A start is what is needed to make change! Perhaps, today you start by reading this blog, finding new resources and support. Let us know what your start is/was and about your journey with decolonization theory and practice. Collectively, we can be the change we hope to see!

Rad[ical] Resources


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@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.

1 thought on “Decolonizing Evaluation Week: Re-Imagining Evaluation through Decolonial Practices by Rayna Brown and Esrea Perez-Bill”

  1. Thank you Rayna Brown and Esrea Perez-Bill for beginning this conversation. The failure to acknowledge or properly understand non-western knowledge systems and movements has undermined so many aspects of academia and research. Reading that you are both acknowledging this failure and that you are actively attempting to correct it was reassuring. Not understanding these knowledge systems also means not understanding the perspectives of a significant number of the individuals who may be accessing the various programs and systems being evaluated, in fact in many instances individuals whose entire understanding of the world is predicated on a non-western knowledge system may be the very people a program is meant to support and engage. If evaluation continues through only a western framework of understanding can it ever fully meet the utility and propriety standards, specifically as they relate to honouring human dignity and addressing individual need.

    This of course create a potential conflict with regards to standards of accuracy, so long as the way information and knowledge is legitimized and validated continues only through a western filter. I appreciate that you said you do not seek to decolonize academia, and find the idea that this would in fact only serve as further misappropriation; however, for lack of a better term I applaud your decolonial efforts. Ultimately the principals you drafted to guide your own practices should also provide a template for similar efforts in many fields, and a framework for evaluations of those programs, key among them is
    identify the colonial practices in our work. It is also important that you speak repeatedly about it being a collective and inclusive effort, and is great to read that you have had such a positive and enthusiastic response to your call to build a different type of professional evaluation community.

    Finally, thank you for not only beginning the conversation, but also for providing resources and venues to continue and expand the conversation. As you mentioned, this is a necessary dialogue.

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