Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week: Reflections on the Intersection of Equity, Environment, and Evaluation by Evan Kuras and Rupu Gupta

Hello! We are Evan Kuras (he/him), Evaluation Consultant with MXM Research Group, and Rupu Gupta (she/her), Owner of Rupu Gupta Consulting and Program Chair of AEA’s Environmental Program Evaluation (EPE) TIG.

We’re celebrating Earth Week by reflecting on what it takes for everyone to steward a healthy planet through evaluation!

Equity is foundational for evaluators who work on environmentally-related topics. We’re focusing on environmental education (EE), for its potential to empower learners with a range of backgrounds and interests to engage in individual and collective stewardship. There is movement in the EE field currently to center and operationalize equity, recognizing the long history of racism and oppression that shaped environmental policies and practices. Similarly, the environmental program evaluation is also striving to more effectively incorporate equity and assess its implications (see previous AEA365 posts including for Earth Week here and here).

Centering equity in EE and its evaluation faces similar challenges as those faced by other fields. This is primarily because professional and theoretical building blocks across fields were derived from colonialist traditions focused on controlling rather than sharing power. The current challenges the EE world faces stem from systemic practices that continue to engage privileged, primarily White stakeholders. For example, a recent report by Dr. Dorceta Taylor and Molly Blondell highlights the stark disparities in the environmental organizations receiving the most grant funding – for example, less than 10% of general foundation support grants went to organizations focused on people of color, who bear the brunt of climate and environmental harm. EE evaluation practices have inherited similar systemic challenges. For example, evaluations of school-based EE programs may be using county or state-based binary gender categories, instead of capturing diverse gender identities, or questioning the utility (versus the harm) of collecting gender information.

Despite these challenges, we are heartened by observations that the environmental movement is embracing equity by learning from and valuing underrepresented identities, experiences, and expertise. See initiatives like #BlackBirdersWeek, REI’s collaboration with Outdoor Afro, and affinity organizations like Latino Outdoors.

Hot Tips

We end with some recommendations and questions that can help evaluators incorporate equity in EE and commensurate evaluations).

  1. Critically examine whose voices are being valued in any environmental program context.  Whose ideas of “the environment” or “nature” are prioritized in the program design and implementation? In the evaluation? How do you ensure the program aligns with the interests of the intended audiences? Examine how you, the evaluator, can ensure those with the least power are involved.
  2. Encourage program partners to get creative about funding opportunities. Recognizing that the typical funders of EE (or environmental work) undervalue equity in practice, there may be opportunities to work with school districts, parks, the outdoor recreation industry, private donors, and social service providers, who care about the intersection of human and environmental health.
  3. See evaluation and learning as part of work itself, not an afterthought for accountability. If the status quo is built on systemic inequities, then we need to try things differently, learn, and improve, even if it means making mistakes along the way. Across program design, implementation, and evaluation, examine how you can experiment (e.g., broaden the definition of environmental education) to change the status quo. 

Rad Resources

eeVAL is an initiative to promote equity in EE through evaluation.

The Data Equity Deck from MXM Research Group: 52 playful cards that prompt you to reflect, answer questions, consider hypothetical scenarios, review a resource, to center equity in research and evaluation.

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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