Greetings from Jen Heeg, Donna Mertens, Esther Nolton, Vidhya Shanker, and Libby Smith. Together, we are developing AEA’s updated DEI statement. In fulfilling Charge #1, we found ourselves resorting organically to cooking metaphors. While not premeditated, upon reflection, we appreciated and began intentionally cultivating the metaphor because it honors types of knowledge and work that evaluation, its antecedent disciplines, and its surrounding industries have devalued and displaced.
What flavor would we like?
We first looked at other institutions’ statements. We decided that we would like AEA’s new statement to impart authenticity and genuine commitment to action, rather than performativity, at multiple ecological levels.
We then asked what from relevant documents that AEA had already developed we could reheat or refresh, what we needed to compost, and what we needed to make from scratch:
- AEA’s Statement on Cultural Competence published in 2011;
- The Program Evaluation Standards, last published that same year;
- The Guiding Principles, last revised in 2018, and
- The Competencies, also published in 2018.
To Reheat & Refresh
While we found little inspiration in these documents, we identified the ingredients that the new statement could include:
- Definitions of relevant terms;
- A hyperlinked timeline of pivotal moments in AEA’s DEI journey;
- A more narrative account of how we got here including the context surrounding the 2011 Statement on Cultural Competence;
- A description of our subgroup’s process for transparency and replication;
- Citations to honor existing work.
- Vetted resources to facilitate deeper engagement.
We found that previous documents do not explicitly state their underlying ethical and epistemological traditions or conceptualizations of justice, but use language that reflects thinking from the European Enlightenment, from Liberalism, and from distributive justice, which assumes that societal arrangements are fair. Keeping these implicit suggests that they are universal rather than specific to a particular time, place, and purpose. We propose that the updated statement compost or transform both opaqueness and individualism by:
- Acknowledging its socio-historical time, place, and purpose—including COVID and recent uprisings against patriarchy, such as #MeToo, and against white supremacy and carcerality more generally since the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others.
- Specifying its ethical and epistemological lineage and orientation toward justice as drawing from relational epistemologies and ethics of care, which characterize many indigenous knowledge systems, and transformative justice, which acknowledges that societal arrangements are asymmetrical.
- Conveying an explicitly systemic analysis that focuses on not just evaluation suppliers/ practitioners, but also demand/ sponsors, as well as other actors (higher ed, publishers, large firms, related industries) that dynamically influence whose knowledge and criteria influence decisions about resource allocation.
To make from scratch
We realized that directing the statement to AEA’s current board as its audience would reinforce top-down ideas about accountability and structural change. We propose that the appropriate audience is not just AEA’s current board but future/ prospective/ potential evaluation leaders—all AEA members and the larger evaluation ecosystem. From AEA’s Topical Interest Groups to its board, the more accustomed we grow to producing knowledge relationally, the more equipped we are to make decisions collaboratively, and the more we cultivate deep democracy, beyond elections. We propose that the statement do so by:
- Drawing from transformative justice, which focuses on regeneration—beyond repair and restoration—from harm. Treating conflict as a source of germination contrasts with white supremacy culture, which avoids the appearance of conflict at all costs, resulting in those with less authority or structural power not being permitted to voice their experiences, perspectives, and interests. Advocates of transformative justice create opportunities for people to practice direct conflict without manipulation and coercion through incentives or punishment.
How could AEA’s statement on DEI feed your transformative work, whatever role you play within the ecosystem? Please share in the comments.
The American Evaluation Association is hosting DEI Week with our colleagues in AEA’s DEI Working Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from working group members. 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.