Greetings! I’m Steven Lize (he/him), I’m a white settler residing on seized homelands of the Muscogee and Cherokee nations and I’m a senior specialist for evaluation and research with the Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL) team at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
For today’s Government Evaluation TIG week post, I want to share thoughts about accountability in evaluation. We might take this term for granted, as accountability is about ethical conduct, honesty, transparency, and accepting responsibility. Practicing accountability may seem obvious and inherent as we follow the AEA Guiding Principles.
The word accountability is even in the name of some government evaluation agencies: The U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (where I worked early in my career). These organizations work to uphold public trust in government by ensuring agencies operate properly and legally and by determining if taxpayer funds are spent efficiently and effectively.
Program evaluations in nongovernmental organizations have a similar role to ensure that donor and philanthropic funds are spent responsibly, and yield intended outcomes. In this sense, accountability is instrumental—the results of governmental and organizational actions conform to expected standards.
Yet, I want to shine a light on accountability as relational, which considers the process we carry out in ongoing relationships and interactions. The movement to promote racial equity has raised awareness in government about the need to be more inclusive and responsive to the people and communities who contribute their ideas, experiences, emotions, and solutions for research purposes.
This goes beyond human subjects review. Relational accountability entails taking responsibility for risks to people and communities involved in the research. This means taking steps to prevent and mitigate harm and claiming ownership of mistakes with commitments to repair. It gives voice in setting the direction of a study and sharing findings.
Culturally responsive evaluation (CRE) similarly emphasizes accountability as practice to reposition study participants and their communities as peers in co-creating knowledge and its use. The “responsive” component of CRE signals accountability to research-involved persons and groups by recognizing their humanity, contribution, and standing.
These resources look beyond hierarchical, instrumental notions of accountability by exploring Indigenous perspectives and privileging the “muted” voices of communities frequently ignored in evaluation, planning, and reporting:
- Inawendiwin and Relational Accountability in Anishnaabeg Studies: The Crux of the Biscuit by N. J. Reo. The author, who is Anishnaabe (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), reflects on relational accountability in a culturally specific way. The article offers success stories and lessons learned for research partnerships with Indigenous nations and communities.
- In This Together: Relational Accountability and Meaningful Research and Dissemination with Youth by J. Reich, and several colleagues. The authors show how participatory action research techniques can contribute to a meaningful dissemination process for youth-engaged research.
- Power, Mutual Accountability and Responsibility in the Practice of International Aid: A Relational Approach, by R. Eyben. The author explores relational accountability from the perspective of international development aid with a focus on how power is configured and exercised in partnerships.
- Indigenous Peoples’ Leadership and Free, Prior and Informed Consent are Fundamental to 30×30 Initiative, by Cultural Survival. Highlights Indigenous Peoples’ responses to the Biden administration’s “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful” preliminary report and what relational accountability would look like to implement environmental conservation collaborations with Indigenous Peoples.
The American Evaluation Association is hosting Government Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the Government Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our Gov’t Eval 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.