Hi! We are Kathryn Sielbeck-Mathes and Rebecca Selove, co-authors of Chapter 6 of “Feminist Evaluation and Research: Theory and Practice”. In our article, based on three evaluations of substance abuse treatment programs for individuals with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse issues, we discuss the importance of framing and shared understanding between evaluators and evaluation stakeholders.
Lesson Learned: Despite linking closely with our own values of fairness, social justice and gender equity within social programming, we did not spend sufficient time understanding the differing values, language, perspectives, frames, etc., of the program manager and his staff, rather assuming we were all interpreting trauma in the same ways and sharing the same values associated with addressing trauma during treatment specifically and programming for women in general. In hindsight, focusing on this understanding should have held the same importance in the evaluation as monitoring fidelity and measuring outcomes.
In order to gain attention and respect for the adoption of feminist frameworks, principles, and values for conducting program evaluation, it is imperative that we frame our conversations to connect rather than compete, align rather than malign and foster acceptance rather than objection from those we need to communicate to and with. This requires an understanding of their position on issues that follow from the language or lens of their value and belief systems.
Lesson Learned: Connecting through words, images, symbols, and stories grounded in values helps make solutions accessible and relevant to program stakeholders, service organizations, and funding agencies. Linking an issue to a widely held cultural value or belief helps start the framing process by appealing to program managers and staff, increasing their interest in learning more.
If it seems as if you are not being heard….you probably are not. A feeling of frustration can be a signal that reconstruction of a shared meaning based upon shared values is necessary!
Lesson Learned: Key tasks associated with feminist evaluation include 1) understanding the problem from the perspective of the women the program is designed to serve, 2) studying the interior and external context of the program to understand the realities and lived experiences of women, and 3) identifying the invisible structures that can undermine even the most diverse, gender-responsive, trauma informed program.
Feminist evaluators must engage in attentive conversations with those implementing and managing human service/treatment programs, listening closely for congruence and dissonance regarding the feminist frame. From the outset of a program evaluation, the feminist evaluator must be mindful and prepared for changing assumptions and language/communication that perpetuates injustice and the disempowerment of women.
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