Feminist TIG Week: Priya Alvarez on Addressing complexity in feminist evaluations through systems-thinking

Hi, I am Priya Alvarez, a feminist evaluator working at UN Women. During the past 12 months, I worked on an evaluation combining feminist and systems thinking approaches with Katrina Rojas/Universalia, Annalise Moser and Bob Williams. The evaluation assessed UN Women’s contribution to UN system coordination on gender equality and the empowerment of women (GEEW).

Applying the systems approach helped us examine the complexity and diversity of scenarios and stakeholders that articulate a very dynamic system within which UN Women exercises its coordination mandate. We explored the relationships among the elements in the system, paying special attention to the multiple perspectives on GEEW and system boundaries.

The feminist approach allowed us to interrogate power relations, including the reproduction of corporate identities, to capture how organizational culture enables or disables transformation.

Lessons learned: Coupling these two approaches helped us better understand how certain dimensions of the system affect the promotion of GEEW, negatively and positively.

  • Incentives matter for horizontal coordination on GEEW among entities with vertical accountability (reporting to a headquarters).
  • A shared common vision and passion for equality creates a sense of purpose and community that enables innovation and fuels meaningful actions.
  • Expertise-based credibility is essential in the absence of financial resources as an incentive.
  • Gender champions do make a difference in mobilizing others to transform gender power relations.

Lessons learned: Ideological boundaries are important drivers for system coordination in addition to traditional boundaries such as money, resources or capacity.

  • Internal organizational integrity and consistency on GEEW are as important as the technical knowledge and approaches used to mainstream gender in policies and programs.
  • Institutional relations based on trust-based alliances, are key for countering dominant discourses and formal structures.

Rad Resources:

Srilatha Batliwala’s Feminist Leadership for Social Transformation unpacks the leadership traits and underlying principles of organizations which embody feminist approaches: less hierarchical and top down; multilayered and collective leadership, introspective and critical of their own leadership; innovative in their practices and consistently infuse a dimension of advocacy in their systems and actions.

Joanne Sandler and Aruna Rao’s Strategies of Feminist Bureaucrats: United Nations Experiences; Rosalind Eyben and Laura Turquet’s Feminist in Development Organizations: Change from the Margins and Lucy Ferguson’s This is Our Gender Person highlight the dilemmas and contradictions of institutional feminism and daily politics. They underscore the creative possibilities of networking and working from the margins of the mainstream to realize the transformative aims and power of feminism.

Bob Williams and Sjon van ‘t Hof’s Wicked Solutions: A Systems Approach to Complex Problems and Dick Morris’ Thinking about systems for sustainable lifestyles helped us understand systems as subjective and changeable and balanced our approach to complexity.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Feminist Issues in Evaluation (FIE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the FIE Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our FIE 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 “Feminist TIG Week: Priya Alvarez on Addressing complexity in feminist evaluations through systems-thinking”

  1. As a program evaluation student and a gender scholar, I was especially interested in your blog post on the AEA365 blog about your work evaluating the UN’s contribution to coordination on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
    As someone who works in an institution, I am immersed in the tension between women’s needs and institutional needs (that are steeped in patriarchal/neoliberal histories and structures). Working to make change in these kinds of organizations (especially equity-focused change) can be frustrating and I appreciated your lessons regarding how feminist and systems-thinking approaches can help us understand how transformation (particularly the promotion of GEEW) is enabled or disabled by organizational culture.
    When you note that gender champions do make a difference, I wondered if it makes more of a difference if the gender champions are people with more power in an organization or if they are men.
    Thank you for the suggested resources- I have downloaded these and will be sure to read them.

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