FIE TIG Week: Taking Lessons from Government Agency Failures to Apply an Equity Lens by Crystallee Crain

Greetings! I am mixed-race black queer woman academic-activist Dr. Crystallee Crain (she/her/hers). I have served as a Lecturer at California State University – East Bay in the Department of Political Science and the Founder & Principal Consultant with Prevention at the Intersections. 

One of the most vital lessons I hold in my work is that of humility. While we all come to this experience and, if we’re lucky, a way of being through different modalities – our ability to co-create a more just and equitable world demands it of us. The National Institute of Health defines cultural humility as a “process of self-reflection and discovery to build honest and trustworthy relationships.” Below are a few examples of how I’ve learned to witness a lack of humility and equity in action.

I served as a Commissioner for Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (2014-2016). During this time, we had oversight over the juvenile justice center, police departments within the county, and group homes (social service or juvenile mandated). Within these evaluations, we took steps that many evaluators use in their everyday practice. 

We conducted interviews, site visits, review of documents, and observations. Even with our multi-method approach, something was still missing. Among the commissioners, there was a deep desire to have equity-based principles applied to our process.  One example was the need for a more inclusive intake form for young people entering the juvenile hall facility. Their response was that kids weren’t having sex in juvenile hall, so why do we need to know as a part of our service delivery. While that was not the question, the leadership’s bias was clear, and without their support, these efforts couldn’t be institutionalized. 

Another example comes from the state of Oregon. As a Human Rights Commissioner (2018-2020), I swore an oath to serve the constitution and the city’s people, supporting the elected officials and city administrators to apply the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to city policy.  A significant issue in Oregon is houselessness, this is something that the Human Rights Commission was working on before my tenure of service. We had been pushing for a city to address houselessness as a protected class within the city ordinance. The fears of potential costs took center stage in the discussion. 

Tip #1: Address inequity and the harm – before arguing about the potential costs.  This could simply mean having a team that knows that the ideation phase of addressing equity issue aren’t the same as finding funding for it. Pushing for the fiscal argument only further perpetuates harm, and is rarely productive in the ideation phase.

Tip #2: Listen to people who are directly impacted. One of the most difficult parts of being a conduit between agencies is the constant translation that must take place between elected officials and the people they represent. If elected officials took more time to listen to what is happening in people’s lives there could be an opportunity to engage people in the policy-making process. This could change how we create and implement solutions.

I urge leadership to deeply reflect on how they make choices, the impact of those choices, and who is involved in deliberating the importance of what needs to change in our locales. Equity is a call for a culture shift, it’s a philosophy of hope that our lives won’t be spent fixing the wrongs of our past/present but building the future from a stronger foundation.

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.

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