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FIE TIG Week: Donna M. Mertens on Evaluation’s Contribution to Solving Wicked Problems

This week, we celebrate the theme of building intersectional feminism into the future of the TIG with our colleagues in the Feminist Issues in Evaluation (FIE) TIG. This post is being brought back from the archive as evergreen content so important, it’s worth a second read.

My name is Donna M. Mertens and I am an independent consultant based in Washington DC; my work is both domestic and international. I had the honor of being the keynote speaker at the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute (MESI) in March 2015. The MESI theme was Social Justice amidst Standards and Accountability: The Challenge for Evaluation. The concept of social justice in the context of evaluation implies that evaluators can play a role in addressing those wicked problems that persist in society, such as violence, lack of access to quality education for all, poverty, substance abuse, and environmental pollution.

Lesson Learned: Wicked problems and Social Justice. Evaluators are concerned and involved in contributing to the solution of wicked problems. They also recognize the importance of bringing a social justice lens to this work. Michael Harnar conducted a survey of 1,187 evaluators and reported that 69% (n=819) either strongly or somewhat agreed with this statement: Evaluation should focus on bringing about social justice.

Rad Resource: Mertens, D.M. editorial: Mixed Methods and Wicked Problems, Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 2015, 9, 3-6. Abstract http://mmr.sagepub.com/content/9/1/3.extract

Harnar, M. (2014). Developing criteria to identify transformative participatory evaluators. JMDE. http://journals.sfu.ca/jmde/index.php/jmde_1/article/view/383

Lesson Learned: Social Justice Lens Leads to Different Evaluation Questions. Evaluators who work with a social justice lens are concerned with the question of program effectiveness and answering the impact question, Did “it” work? They are also interested in asking other types of questions:

  • Was “it” the right thing?
  • Was “it” chosen and/or developed and implemented in culturally responsive ways?
  • Were contextual issues of culture, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, deafness, religion, language, immigrant or refugee status, age or other dimensions of diversity used as a basis for discrimination and oppression addressed?
  • How were issues of power addressed?
  • Do we want to continue to spend money on things that don’t work?

Rad Resource: Native American Center for Excellence published Steps for Conducting Research and Evaluation in Native Communities that provides a specific context in which a social justice lens is applied in evaluation.

Lessons Learned: Social Justice Criteria for Evaluators. Evaluators who work with a social justice lens consider the following criteria to be indicators of the quality of the evaluation:

  • Emphasizes human rights and social justice
  • Analyses asymmetric power relations
  • Advocates culturally competent relations between the evaluator and community members
  • Employs culturally appropriate mixed methods tied to social action
  • Applies critical theory, queer theory, disability and deafness rights theories, feminist theory, critical race theory, and/or postcolonial and indigenous theories

Rad Resource: Reyes J., Kelcey J., Diaz Varela A. (2014). Transformative resilience guide: Gender, violence and educationWashington, DC: World Bank.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting 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. 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.

2 thoughts on “FIE TIG Week: Donna M. Mertens on Evaluation’s Contribution to Solving Wicked Problems”

  1. Thank you for this post! Regarding the resource, “Steps for Conducting Research and Evaluation in Native Communities,” do you know when it was published?

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