EPE TIG Week: Evaluators as Data Shepherds by Rupu Gupta and Arika Virapongse

Rupu Gupta
Arika Virapongse

Hi, We are Rupu Gupta, Program-Chair of AEA’s Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group, and Co-Chair of the Community Resilience Cluster within Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP), and Arika Virapongse, Chair of ESIP’s Community Resilience Cluster, Director of Middle Path EcoSolutions, and Community Director of the Ronin Institute.

With multiple hats on, we’re raising a critical question about the intent, development, and use of data in today’s technology friendly world – to what extent is investment in sophisticated datasets meeting the needs of identified users and helping solve intractable societal and environmental challenges?

This is relevant in spaces where efforts are being made to enhance place-based communities’ capacity to tackle and better prepare for various unanticipated events, including, but not limited to, natural hazards like wildfires and flooding, which can be traced back to a changing climate. The question also applies to efforts to build urban communities’ climate resilience through green infrastructure, so that even the most economically disadvantaged residents can benefit from nearby nature. For example, Tree Equity is the goal by using urban forests as a tool to learn about gaps in access to nature, and plant more trees to fill those gaps. Similarly, federal resources like the EJScreen: Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool helps identify areas and communities with poor environmental quality that can be used to address health gaps and advance environmental justice.

Despite the proliferation of datasets and applications which can, in theory, help create more resilient spaces, little is known about how they are helping improve social, economic, and environmental conditions, and how the people impacted are equitably engaged and benefit from the process.

In a paper that is in press currently, along with other ESIP colleagues, we describe how Earth Science researchers face challenges in the creation, implementation, management, use, and application of data systems to positively impact social and ecological challenges in different community contexts. We also offer recommendations to reduce inequities in data use for real world problem solving, including collaboration among transdisciplinary teams, comprising stakeholders from multiple sectors, including the general public. We suggest evaluators should be one of these groups, who need to work closely with earth scientists. 

Hot Tips

Evaluators can expand their role as data shepherds in the following ways:

  1. Collaborate with data creators in the production phase to make explicit the application and value of different types of data and users to ensure their effective use.
  1. Introduce overarching social and environmental theory of change approaches to improve applicability and efficacy of data-related efforts.
  1. Lead the process of co-creating meaningful definitions of intended outcomes and impacts anticipated through the use of a given dataset.
  1. Ensure that the development process engages intended end users actively to guide the process, instead of merely ‘getting their feedback’.
  1. Conduct process evaluations to learn how users were equitably engaged.
  1. Lead phased mixed methods evaluation studies to understand how users at different levels are benefiting from them through outcome evaluations, as well as long-term assessments of societal impacts.
  1. Produce compelling stories by using creative data visualizations that convey the ways that people and the communities they inhabit are being positively impacted.

How else can evaluators be data shepherds to make sure that data is advancing community needs in equitable ways? We encourage you to add to this list by considering how you can be an effective data shepherd in your own environmental evaluation work!


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.

1 thought on “EPE TIG Week: Evaluators as Data Shepherds by Rupu Gupta and Arika Virapongse”

  1. The only issue I have with a lot of policies that try to create more green space in urban settings is they artificially raise the price of housing by reducing the supply of housing. San Francisco and Palo Alto are good examples of this phenomenon which began in the 70s

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