Greetings! My name is Nnenia Campbell, and I am a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center as well as an independent evaluation consultant specializing in disaster-related programming. As an alumna of AEA’s Graduate Education Diversity Internship (GEDI) program, I frequently consider how I can engage in culturally responsive evaluation or call attention to the role of cultural context in my work. These concepts are particularly important in disaster and emergency management evaluation because extreme events can affect diverse populations with vastly disparate impacts.
Scholars and practitioners alike have observed that initiatives designed to alleviate the burden of disaster losses often fail to meet their goals, particularly within underserved communities. Moreover, although the concept of social vulnerability has begun to feature prominently in emergency management discourse, common issues and oversights can inadvertently reinforce inequality and undermine the interests of those who suffer the most crippling disaster impacts. Opaque or exclusionary decision-making practices, discounting of local knowledge, and imposition of locally inappropriate “solutions” are common complaints about programs intended to help communities prepare for or respond to hazard events.
In evaluating disaster resilience and recovery initiatives, it is important to pay attention to which stakeholders are at the table and how that compares to the broader populations they serve. Which interests are being represented? What histories may inform how a program is perceived? Alternatively, what factors may influence how program implementers engage clients and characterize their needs? Culturally responsive evaluation provides a powerful lens for answering such questions and for clarifying why they are important to ask in the first place.
- Do your homework. Culturally responsive evaluation literature emphasizes the importance of capturing the cultural context of the program under study. Ignoring factors such as the history of a program and its stakeholders, the relationships and power dynamics among them, or the values and assumptions that shape their actions can lead to grave errors in interpretation.
- Seek out cultural brokers. In order to adequately address the concerns of diverse stakeholders, evaluators must establish trust and respect. Working with cultural brokers, or trusted liaisons who can help to communicate concerns and advocate on behalf of a group, can foster greater understanding encourage meaningful engagement.
- Chapter 7 in the 2010 User-Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation provides an excellent introduction to culturally responsive evaluation:
- The Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment Conference is a great opportunity to learn and engage with others about
- For a more illustrative discussion of how these concepts apply in disaster response and recovery, see Looking Through Different Filters: Culture and Bureaucracy in the Aftermath of Disaster.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Disaster and Emergency Management Evaluation (DEME) Topical Interest Group (TIG) Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our DEME TIG 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.