Dominica McBride on Sociocultural Theory and its Applicability to Evaluation

I’m Dominica McBride, President of The HELP Institute, Inc. Recently, I wrote an article for New Directions for Evaluation on Sociocultural Theory (ST) and its applicability to evaluation.

Joke: There were a few young fish swimming near an older, wise fish and the old, wise fish says, “My, isn’t the water wonderful today?” and the young fish say, “Water? What water?”

Relevance: Culture is like water to fish – influencing our lives but often taken for granted or never even seen. It can be this ethereal and abstract concept. However, reflecting on and examining culture can be pivotal in personal and professional growth, program improvement, and societal change.

ST is one of the most comprehensive models on culture and human development, touching on all aspects of culture – the biological, psychological, interpersonal, linguistic, ecological, and historical. It provides simple guiding principles for evaluation and research practice:

Hot Tip: The unit of analysis is the sociocultural activity. Examine naturally occurring activities as it relates to the program or process (e.g., participants interacting). These activities should be considered in the context of the program, sociopolitical environment, family norms, organizational culture, etc.

Hot Tip: To understand a person, group, or social phenomena, we must ascertain the ever-changing environment and acknowledge and examine the development of the person, group, or program over time.

Hot Tip: Individual dynamics are affected by intrapersonal, interpersonal, and community dynamics – all of which are inseparable. So, to study a person or program, we must also consider the multifaceted influences that affect the participant behavior and the program.

Hot Tip: Groups have more variety within than between, which means there is more “cultural group” within a group and we must take this into consideration when learning of “another culture.” This fact can also help to dispel stereotypes. There are also many commonalities between groups. These phenomena help us to see and appreciate both the differences and links between us and others.

Hot Tip: Often times, we can get attached to methods. ST reminds us that the question should drive the methods and not the other way around. This assumption also encompasses the need for interdisciplinary work, opening our minds and hearts to other professionals and ways of doing things.

Hot Tip: In order to truly understand another, we must understand ourselves. Thus, we should take time to reflect on our development, cultural influences, personal and professional context, and intrapersonal dynamics. Without cleaning our own lens, we will always see others through tainted glasses.

Rad Resource:

Sociocultural Theory expert Barara Rogoff’s comprehensive book, The Cultural Nature of Human Development.

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.

1 thought on “Dominica McBride on Sociocultural Theory and its Applicability to Evaluation”

  1. Karen Anderson

    Interesting blog post Dominica! I particularly like your Hot Tip: the unit of analysis is the sociocultural activity, it reminds me of an excerpt from the March 2012-AJE article, “A Conversation on Multicultural Competence” where Joseph Trimble answers the question:

    What can evaluators do to learn more about multicultural competence?

    “Ask why. Are you willing to spend time in those communities, not collecting data? Talking with elders, talking with community members, just visiting, having coffee on the back porch…we’re dealing with a population of people who live lives. And the context in which they live needs to be understood. You can’t game this. What does it mean to be flying under the cultural competence label? Is there some value in pulling together the 50,000 mistakes that have been made? What does it mean to be a virtuous and responsible researcher? There are different understandings of trust, respect—how are these gained in the community? That list would be wonderful contribution.”

    Thanks for the post and the journal article highlighting some of the Sociocultural Theory assumptions and how they’re applicable to evaluation.

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