FIE/MME Week: Bessa Whitmore on Researcher and Evaluator Roles and Social Justice

My name is Elizabeth (AKA: Bessa) Whitmore. Now a retired Professor from the School of Social Work, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, I have been a member of the Feminist TIG since its inception. The following entry draws on a chapter I am writing entitled “Researcher/evaluator roles and social justice” in a forthcoming Handbook on Feminist Evaluation (edited by Denise Seigart, Sharon Brisolara and Sumitra SenGupta).

Hot Tips:

  • There are a range of roles played by a feminist evaluator, including facilitator, educator, collaborator, technical expert/methodologist, and activist/advocate. Not everyone can do everything equally well, so self-knowledge and confidence in one’s strengths (and limitations) is essential. The personal characteristics, experience and preferences of the evaluator will dictate which role(s) she/he best plays. It is critical to recognize that what role the evaluator plays and how, is intimately tied to her/his own worldview, history, and biography. There is no objectivity; we need to be aware that we are deeply grounded in our own location and life experience.
  • Good “people skills” are essential when engaging stakeholders in the process. These include active listening, cultural sensitivity, non-verbal communication, motivating participants, coordinating relationships, encouraging interactions, supporting others’ ideas, and an ability to reflect critically on one’s own reactions and behavior.
  • Having fun: We should not dismiss the importance of fun in this work. “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution” said Emma Goldman back in the 1930s. Long hours without some laughter tend to burn people out, or they just drop out.

Cool Tricks: Here are some questions one might ask when planning and implementing a feminist evaluation:

  • In what ways are women (men, bisexual and transgendered people, etc.) treated differently within the program, and how do their experiences and outcomes differ? In what ways do class, race, and gender combine to expand or contract possibilities for participants?
  • Are both women and men being consulted about objectives and activities? Which women, and which men? Has the potential for community resistance to women’s empowerment activities or organizational resistance to female managers been assessed?
  • Did the project have any unexpected (positive or negative) social and gender equity outcomes?

Lessons Learned:

  • A feminist lens enhances validity in all evaluation approaches. For example, an experimental design pays attention to the sample distribution among men and women, considers gender related factors in the questions asked, and in data analysis. A utilization focused evaluation attends to the gender (and other) distribution (in decision-making). Social justice approaches (such as empowerment, participatory, collaborative, transformative, etc.); consider the equality and quality of gender participation.
  • Get involved: A good place to discuss these and other issues is the Feminist TIG.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating the Mixed Methods Evaluation and Feminist Issues TIGs (FIE/MME) Week. The contributions all week come from FIE/MME 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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