DemTIG Week: Democracy Day Turns into Democracy Week by Dylan Diggs

Hi evaluators! I am Dylan Diggs, the chair of AEA’s Democracy, Human Rights and Governance topical interest group and an evaluator with the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL). I’m here to announce that it’s “Democracy Week” at AEA in honor of the United Nation’s International Day of Democracy on September 15!

This unique year has brought its own prism of trials facing evaluators in democracy, human rights and governance (DRG) work. Throughout the week, we will highlight the voices of evaluators working in this space to reflect on the global state of democracy and its effect on practitioners and those evaluating that work.

The continuing challenges brought by COVID-19 to access and disruption that has forced evaluators of all kinds to adjust quickly. This has wrought additional complexities to programs that are often based on bringing people together and speaking truth to power. However, COVID-19 is not the only issue that besets evaluators in this space. Democracy and rights advocates have been facing shrinking spaces around the world. This year marks the end of a decade that has seen democracy in crisis as democratic norms and institutions are stressed by internal and external pressures.

This shifting ground challenges traditional approaches to program design, monitoring and evaluation. It demands a response from evaluators that is adaptive, flexible, open-minded and ultimately humble. 

Evaluators in democracy and rights work must use this moment to recommit to principles of democratic norms in our own work. Below are some of the democratic principles that can also be the tools through which we can best navigate this emergence and turbulence.

  • Participation: This is a time to engage with our stakeholders and beneficiaries. Active listening and participatory approaches provide evaluators better insight into what is changing on the ground and helps reverse the top-down relationship between Western-funded organizations and those they are trying to support.
  • Inclusivity: Traditionally marginalized groups are often hit the hardest by crisis and turbulence. They tend to be the first to face repression and are most at risk to face violence or service disruption amid turmoil. It is incumbent on evaluators to ensure that we are not furthering this marginalization and that instead we are ensuring minority and marginalized voices are heard and empowered.
  • Adaptation: Program logic, assumptions and operating environmental factors that were clear even a month ago might be radically different today. Evaluators can be an asset to DRG practitioners in facilitating flexible approaches to these shifts by helping, not hindering, these changes.
  • Accuracy: Maintaining principles that acknowledge and work to reduce bias and uphold rigor is critical. Trust in many communities is in decline. We must make sure that our research is grounded, because once that trust is broken, it can have deleterious effects beyond a single evaluation project.

There is power in truth. As listeners by trade, evaluators can also be the storytellers that are so needed in these times. This week, evaluators in the DRG TIG will speak to how through embracing DRG principles in our work, we have sought to better meet the challenges of our time.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating DemTIG Week with our colleagues in the Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance TIG. All of the blog contributions this week come from our DemTIG 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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