EPE TIG Week: Evaluating Environmental Education Programs Focused on Diversity by Rupu Gupta

Hi, I’m Rupu Gupta, Conservation Psychologist, Co-Chair of AEA’s Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group, and Researcher at NewKnowledge.org, a research and evaluation think tank.

For the past five years, I have evaluated the EECapacity project, supported by a cooperative agreement between Cornell University and the US Environmental Protection Agency. It aimed to expand the critical role environmental education (EE) plays in fostering healthy environments and communities. The project’s overall strategy was to link an emerging cadre of diverse EE professionals working in urban environmental stewardship, community, and environmental justice organizations with established environmental educators who are active in nationwide professional and government networks. A number of resources, online learning opportunities, and professional development activities, were employed to engage groups of environmental educators across the country.

A number of key insights emerged from the findings that are relevant for evaluating environmental programs, and as Earth Week approaches, even more so in thinking about the intersections between environmental and human outcomes.

Lessons Learned:

  • Environmental educators in the US are more racially and ethnically diverse than is documented through professional associations – this means, that when evaluating environmental projects focused on diversity, we have to be mindful of the characteristics of the population of interest to understand change
  • Environmental educators hold multiple perspectives about the goals of EE – perception of apparent differences in EE’s purpose (to connect kids with the outdoors versus to foster youth leadership in community gardening) often overlooks shared outcomes for young audiences) 
  • Culturally responsive approaches are critical to initiate relationship building between educators affiliated with professional EE and those aligned with community-focused goals – the processes of interaction are as important as outcomes of potential partnerships.
  • Social identities tied to groups defining unique approaches to environment-focused work are important to consider – if the goal is to foster collaboration, a proxy may be the development of a superordinate identity that recognizes the shared goals of groups that have not previously connected.
  • Differences in power and status are inherent in environmental projects with stakeholders from organizations ranging from national-level EE organizations to community focused programs – project outcomes will be meaningfully interpreted only when the evaluation context and interactions between the key stakeholders are honestly examined.

Earth Week is a reminder of the global imperative to protect our planet’s flora and fauna, in ways that complement social goals of altruism, equity and justice. For evaluating environmental programs, it is a humbling moment for us to reflect on the motivated, human-led actions and approaches that create environmental and inevitably societal change.

Rad Resources:

For more information:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating 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.

1 thought on “EPE TIG Week: Evaluating Environmental Education Programs Focused on Diversity by Rupu Gupta”

  1. Anna-Marie Prohaska

    Hi Rupu Gupta, I’m currently working on a Professional Masters of Education at Queens University and am interested in developing an Outdoor Education course at the high school where I currently teach. I appreciated the ‘lessons learned’ especially in relation to the “culturally responsive approaches are critical to initiate relationship building between educators affiliated with professional EE and those aligned with community-focused goals” as the community where I work is on the unceded traditional territory of the Tsimshian Nation. While the opportunity for funding through the Aboriginal Education Department is possible, it also seems fraught with potential complications. This is why the last two aspects of lessons learned also resonated with me, as they highlight the importance of building relationships and partnerships, across departments and organizations, before a program can be developed or implemented.

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