DOVP Week: June Gothberg on Marginalized Populations

Greetings, I am June Gothberg, the Chair of the Disabilities and Other Vulnerable Populations TIG. We have been honored to be included in aea365 and hope that you have gained in your knowledge and expanded your evaluator toolbox this week.

I would like to wrap up our week with the broad topic of inclusive evaluation. I was introduced to the term in the late 90s by our past AEA President, Donna Mertens. In her 1999 AJE article, she stated “Inclusive evaluation has the potential to contribute to an enhanced ability to assert truth, objectivity, credibility, validity, and rigor… based on a review of world history, certain groups have been systematically excluded from having meaningful participation in the design, implementation, and use of evaluations that impact them”. It’s my belief that in order for evaluators to provide unbiased, accurate, and useful results, they must attend to those in the margins.

Lessons Learned and Hot Tips:

  1. Increasing participation from marginalized populations increases evaluation validity and reliability. Think about it, without the voices of all, how do we make recommendations for all?
  2. Marginalized populations may include more than you know. In addition to people with mental or physical disabilities there are: addicts, historically oppressed, homeless, LGBTQ, low-income, low-literate, the aging, those from the non-dominate culture, trauma survivors, veterans, and women and girls.
  3. Persons from marginalized or vulnerable groups may be hard to identify. Many vulnerabilities are invisible. For example, people with learning disabilities, veterans with PSTD, people that have experienced abuse, or people with mental health issues.
  4. Learn the language. Professions outside evaluation are also tackling this issue but may use differing terms: education uses inclusion, mainstreaming, least restrictive environment, employers tend to use the terms integrated and equal access; community planners and agencies use terms like independent, universal, accessible, and livable.
  5. Accommodations tend to benefit more than the marginalized person. I recently attended a conference where employers discussed the advantages of diverse work populations. On a large panel of the nation’s top employers, every one of them said the benefits to all employees far exceeded the cost of accommodating employees.

Rad Resources:

  1. AEA’s Cultural Competency Statement
  2. Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA)
  3. Mertens, D.M. (2009). Transformative research and evaluation. New York: Guilford Press.
  4. Thurston & Jenson (2014). Merging Trauma-Informed and Universal Design Principles

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating the Disabilities and Other Vulnerable Populations TIG (DOVP) Week. The contributions all week come from DOVP 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.

2 thoughts on “DOVP Week: June Gothberg on Marginalized Populations”

  1. It was great to see a post that addressed the issue of inclusive evaluation in an effort for evaluators to provide more useful results to those populations. While it seems to make sense that these people should be consulted when evaluations are being completed on programs that directly affect them, it is surprising that they are not always involved.
    The lessons learned and hot tips was also a wonderful read as it brought to my attention many factors that I may not have considered or might have overlooked. The first lesson that, “increasing participation from marginalized populations increases evaluation validity and reliability” (Gothberg, 2016), completely makes sense as I agree that it would be near impossible to make recommendations for all people without the input of all people. The second point that mentions that marginalized populations may include more than what is already thought was interesting as some of the groups that were stated, a, the aging, trauma survivors, and low-literate are all groups that I personally overlooked when thinking about marginalized populations. The idea that vulnerable groups may be hard to identify could also be particularly challenging as it is sometimes hard to understand when you are not able to directly visualize a minority, and I think this would also make it particularly difficult for these groups. It was also helpful to see the different language that outside professionals use to address these populations as it is easier to evaluate the research and make connections.
    However, I found the last point to be the most interesting and surprising, “accommodations tend to benefit more than the marginalized person” (Gothberg, 2016). The fact that everyone on the panel of the nation’s top employers agreed that the cost of accommodating these marginalized people was far exceeded by the benefit provided to all employees was certainly refreshing. It brings to mind the question, if all these employers see accommodating these marginalized populations as such a benefit to all employees, why is this an issue at all?
    Thank you very much for sharing this enlightening article on inclusive evaluation and bringing to light some factors that I have overlooked included in your lessons learned and hot tips.

    1. Shannon,

      Remarkably, of all the excellent AEA365 blog posts that I could choose to comment on for GDPI PME 802, I was drawn to this one as I felt it to be of particular relevance to my area of inquiry – the letters of accommodation program at Niagara College. Rather than make comments so similar to yours, as I agree with much of what you’ve said, or address my reply directly to the author, Ms. Gothberg, I thought I’d just add a few lines here in response to your comment.

      We can all agree that the more stakeholders we involve in the evaluation process, the more comprehensive our findings could be and more useful our recommendations however there certainly are factors that limit this from happening all the time. For starters, even though many top employers admit that the benefits of including members of marginalized populations far outweigh the costs, my cynical side asks, “what else are they going to say?”. Would they actually publicly admit to avoiding persons with disabilities in their inquiry and subsequent policy making – I think not. Can they demonstrate that they are making a sincere effort to approach all members of their employee population? Much company policy is based on laws that have been established to respect and support peoples with disabilities however I sometimes fear that much of what is done in response by companies is simply in the spirit of compliance and all too often the bare minimum is completed to ‘stay out of trouble’ rather than fully embrace a culture of inclusivity and respect of all.

      Secondly, there is so much political correctness in our society and growing fear of adverse reaction from Human Rights organizations that the idea of approaching and questioning LGBTQ, learning disabled, homeless or other marginalized individuals makes one pause for fear the wrong language is used, or the wrong questions asked. The importance of privacy in these matters is paramount and so we must be very well prepared and exercise great caution when making the choice to potentially ‘invade’ this privacy. As stated in Ms. Gothberg’s blog, “many vulnerabilities are invisible” and so when do we know we’ve approached adequate numbers of marginalized employees? At what point do we conclude that our assessment has adequately represented the needs and nuances of our entire employee population?

      Certainly these are important questions worthy of more investigation and conversation but I thank you for get the proverbial ball rolling.

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