Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week: Putting Assets-based Approaches into Action in Environmental Education Evaluation by Melanie Giangreco, Megan Ennes, and Rupu Gupta

Happy Earth Week! We are Dr. Megan Ennes, Assistant Curator of Museum Education at the Florida Museum of Natural History and head of the Museum Education Research Group (MERG); Melanie Giangreco, evaluator, MERG team member, and graduate student at the University of Florida; and Dr. Rupu Gupta, Owner of Rupu Gupta Consulting and Program Chair of AEA’s Environmental Program Evaluation TIG.

At the 2022 annual AEA Conference, we hosted a Think Tank called, “Assets-based approaches to environmental education evaluation” to discuss and share solutions to the following questions:

  • Are you currently using an assets-based approach in your evaluation practice?
    • If so, what frameworks have you found helpful in promoting equity and justice?
    • If not, what support do you need to take an assets-based approach in your work?
  • What are some examples of commonly-used language that perpetuates a deficit-based approach, and what are ways of shifting this language to be assets-based?
  • What does decolonizing evaluation mean to you? What does this look like in practice?

Assets-based evaluation is closely related to Culturally Responsive Evaluation (CRE). Both emphasize evaluation being conducted through the lenses of equity and social justice and both consider culture and context. Assets-based evaluation is one approach that can contribute to CRE, but does not constitute CREon its own.

Most session participants did not focus on using an assets-based approach in their work, but stated that they recognized the opportunities to change their mental models to identify the gifts and strengths of the communities with which they work. Changing our perspectives changes what we view as problems or challenges. A shift in thinking can allow for new discoveries or surprises, and experiencing different types of learning through the evaluation process.

Hot Tip:

Let’s talk about language! Session participants discussed how their words could promote an assets-based approach and shift deficit thinking. Here are some of their suggestions.

Instead of…..Say….
Needs assessmentInterests and assets assessment/inventory
Weaknesses, or Areas of ImprovementPriorities and goals (identified by the program participants); strengths and opportunities
Problem statementPurpose statement
LackingInterest in/desire for (as defined by program participants)
Others?Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Language was also key when participants shared their perspectives about what it means to “decolonize evaluation.” While the term “decolonization” is becoming more widespread in academic and evaluation circles, for many people actively working in this space, the meaning reflects true repatriation of Indigenous lands. As Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang remind us, “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” When speaking about decolonizing evaluation, we should take care to define what we mean and be precise in our language.

  • Are we talking about shifting systems of oppression?
  • Sharing power in decision-making?
  • Centering social justice?
  • Supporting community-led evaluation?

Let’s be clear with our words and take action to reflect our stated values in our evaluation practices rather than watering down the true meaning of decolonization.

Rad Resources:

We put together this list of resources about assets-based approaches to environmental education evaluation. You can find readings on Community Cultural Wealth Theory, Positive Youth Development, and links to programs that are putting assets-based approaches into action. We hope to keep learning together alongside all of you about how using an assets-based approach in your environmental education evaluation is one way to keep the spirit of Earth Day alive throughout the entire year.


The American Evaluation Association is hosting Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our EPE 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 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.

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