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Expanding the Bench™ Initiative Week: Culturally Responsive Evaluation Practice beyond “Hello” by Sharon Attipoe-Dorcoo & Norma Martínez-Rubin

Hello! We are Sharon Attipoe-Dorcoo and Norma Martínez-Rubin, members of Expanding the Bench’sAdvancing Culturally-responsive and Equitable (ACE) Evaluation Network. As evaluators, having a culturally responsive and equitable evaluation (CREE) orientation is analogous to creating engagement opportunities for community members once unwilling to seek, and participate in, conversations leading to decisions that will impact them. Our CREE practices are derived from pride in ancestral origins, lived experiences, formal training in the US, and ongoing interest in evaluation practice to enhance the quality of life for underserved and ethnically diverse communities. In general, such communities have not been invited to contribute their opinions at the metaphorical discussion table, or when invited, have not been engaged in the discussion.

In our evaluation practices, CREE is purposeful because it is a mindset that informs our practice. This mindset is how we apply CREE practices irrespective of the methodology. For example, holding the communities we serve in focus when conducting a desk review is not unlike conducting an in-person qualitative interview. We continuously ask ourselves:

  • Why are we engaged in this evaluation?
  • Who will ultimately benefit from the time, energy, and cost associated with the evaluation findings?
  • Who is not yet involved that ought to be present?

An engagement process might start with “hello,” to acknowledge all present. It continues with an eager spirit to involve those not yet at the table. Our designs of CREE-oriented evaluations are sometimes so meticulous that cultural responsiveness (e.g., attentiveness, presence, patience, tolerance, varied worldviews) risk being sacrificed to meet procedural and contractual timelines. To avoid such sacrifice, we step back, reflect, and reset to think:

  • Whom must we include?
  • What must we accomplish?
  • Who are we serving?
  • How might we engage all of whom we are serving?

Taking a step back is iterative and allows us to commit to continuous improvement in our evaluation approaches.

Lesson Learned: The CREE mindset can be illustrated with the image of a pomegranate inside a calabash bowl. The pomegranate represents a bold, rich collection of surprising flavors (input) that rewards one when appropriately handled. It can also be messy! The calabash bowl is used in African countries and communities (i.e., Ghana and Nigeria) for drinking. Traditionally, one is offered a cold drink as a sign of welcome into a home. It goes beyond “hello.” The gesture represents a welcome, engagement, and inclusiveness – all fundamental to CREE. Balancing the welcome, engagement, and inclusion of the bold, rich, and messy humanity in our work is what yields its wonderful, rewarding impact.

Hot Tip: Blend formal training, recognize lived experience and engage with diverse views to inspire practical ways to make evaluation relatable and demonstrable of CREE.

This week, we’re diving into issues of Culturally Responsive and Equitable Evaluation (CREE) with contributions from members of the Expanding the Bench Initiative (ETB). ETB is an initiative based on the fundamental belief that increasing diversity in the field of evaluation improves our knowledge base and makes for better science and social innovation. 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.

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