Hello! We are Divya Bheda & Alissa Jones – two feminist, independent evaluator-scholars—one, a cis-woman-of-color and the other, a cis-white woman. Today, we come together to share our insights on reflexivity and its significance for evaluators.
Reflexivity, simply put, is about constantly seeking a deeper self-awareness of one’s positionality/power (and the intersectional nature of it). It is a metacognitive approach that strives to uncover the lived experiences and powers of those we are working with/have an impact on (made invisible by the privileges we enjoy and likely don’t want to give up, and the unconscious biases we embody). Reflexivity involves recognizing and authentically exploring assumptions, values, personal biases, deficit-thinking, and cultural othering/pathologizing—all of which influence how we perceive reality, what questions we ask about it, and what tools we use to answer those questions to arrive at certain “truths” or defining conclusions. In evaluation, being reflexive means we locate ourselves in our evaluand context. Reflexivity requires us to ask ourselves how our role, power, and intersectional positionality influences the evaluation, and how ALL our stakeholders’ various positionality/ies and powers impact decision-making across the process—what is lost? At what cost? What is gained? At whose expense?
Hot Tip: Reflexivity differs from reflection. It seeks cognitive dissonance, is not just about looking back; it looks forward to proactively address implicit premises and taken-for-granted norms. Reflexivity should be used as an evaluator accountability checklist, a funder/program alignment barometer, and a stakeholder engagement tool—to encourage frequent, open discussion.
1. As evaluators, we have power, and it is our ethical responsibility, (as we fight to expose and dismantle systemic structures of oppression—especially racism, capitalism, sexism, ableism, and colonized, white, assimilationist approaches to evaluation), to apply reflexivity in our practice. AEA calls evaluators to “recognize dynamics of power” and to address “the implicit standard of ‘whiteness’”. Our actions and “objective” findings and recommendations have life-changing, significant consequences for the communities we serve. If we don’t unpack the lenses we bring to the table, we are complicit in the oppression of these communities.
2. There are limited reflexivity resources in AEA-sponsored journals to serve as a guide for practitioners. In fact, there is only one article that provides a reflexivity model. We need more articles and journals that prioritize and advance social justice evaluations that employ and advocate for reflexivity. AEA journals and editors, we call you to action.
3. Reflexivity is a critical tool to address power, influence, and privilege—to enable the creation of an empowering, agency-filled, and socially just evaluation praxis.
In summary, as Oluo states in her book,
I strongly believe that the vast majority of people who set out to fight racism, sexism, and ableism, and other forms of oppression do so because they really do want to make the world a better place for all people. But if you don’t embrace intersectionality (and reflexivity, we believe ?), even if you make progress for some, you will look around one day and find that you’ve become the oppressor of others. (p.79)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.
3 thoughts on “FIE TIG Week: Reflexivity and the Importance of Practicing it in Evaluation by Divya Bheda & Alissa Jones”
Laura, Gosh! My apologies as I just realized I never replied to this post! Thank you in advance for your patience and so glad Alissa did respond. You ask a great question and my take on it is that the more critically you can engage with, learn from, and absorb critical, feminist scholarship and activism, the more reflexivity becomes second nature. For me, it is a value, an attitude, and a practice. The ability to look at every situation and context you find yourself in and ask oneself, what am I missing here? Who is silent/silenced? Why and how? Who has power, why, and how? And who is impacted–why and how?
These are the ways I think about reflexivity–especially in relation to my power, implicit biases, positionality, and privileges. I think Jara Dean Coffey is doing some good work around Equity and Evaluation and her work may well provide a framework that can be adapted to apply reflexivity as well. I am still in search of tools and checklists but I wonder if it will ever be that simple…
Finally, I think we all need a few accountability circles or networks who can call us into accountability when we stray away from our values of social justice and our practice of reflexivity. We have to develop that sixth sense that niggles us at the back of our mind that something we are doing or some action we are participating in is making us uncomfortable or is problematic or that we are missing something. When we honor, cultivate, and pay attention to that niggling voice at the back of our minds, we will be engaging in reflexivity. We will learn to push ourselves into activism and advocacy even as we straddle two worlds and understand our role both as complicit and courageous.
Laura- thank you so much for your comment and question! Unfortunately, I haven’t found any tools or checklists to orient and support evaluators in practicing reflexivity. The article linked in Lessons Learned #2 provides a model and includes suggestions on how to approach reflexivity, which you may find helpful. However; it is still relatively “reflective” and does not appear to fully engage stakeholders in the process. This certainly indicates a gap in the literature that I hope to contribute to in the future!
Hi Divya Bheda & Alissa Jones,
Thank you for this powerful article, I appreciate your focus on reflexivity being more than just reflection, as it also considers the actions to break the person’s patterns of unconscious oppression. As I am beginning my journey as an evaluator, I connected with the quote you included that highlights that evaluators want to create positive change, however, they need to do so by acknowledging their own lenses, the powers they have that can lead to misrepresentation, marginalization and misuse.
In lessons learned #1, you call out the repercussions that evaluators’ recommendations can have if they do not address or acknowledge their lenses. I think that this is vital for evaluators, especially beginners, who need to be conscious and explicitly working towards. One question is how can I ensure that I am aware of my lens and apply reflexivity towards all areas of an evaluation? I know that it should be done continually, however, are there any tools/checklists that ask the tough questions that pertain to the different aspects within an evaluation?
Thank you for your time, this was a fantastic way to start a week with intentions.