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.