IC TIG Week: Organizational Development for Agents of Change: The Oppression Matrix by Laurie Jones Neighbors

Hello evaluators! I am Laurie Jones Neighbors. My focus as a researcher and evaluator is to support liberation for all. As a managing consultant, I also seek to build a business that “walks the talk” of anti-oppression in every facet of the organization, from recruitment and hiring to making decisions about expenditures. Very often, there is a tension between these two roles.

The Oppression Matrix

For both client-facing work and firm development, one bridging tool I use is the oppression matrix. The oppression matrix is derived from the concept of interlocking oppressions, an area of experience first documented by the Combahee River Collective (1977) and other Black feminist theorists of the 20th century. Taking an additional page from the notebooks of community advocates, we can use the short-hand “oppression logic” to describe the ways in which oppressive systems structure our society (and organize our thinking) so that inequities, discrimination, and violence can be seen as normal, organic, or rational.

The “big buckets” of oppression logic are white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and imperialism. In the “matrix,” these broad categories can be extrapolated to include heteropatriarchy, colonialism, ableism, nationalism, and other forms of oppression logic. By keeping the oppression matrix at the forefront of our thinking, we are well positioned to make equitable decisions about how we develop and manage evaluation firms, organizations, and departments.

Critical Questions

Applying oppression logic to decisions about organizational development and management is challenging, but here are some sample decision areas with critical questions to get you started thinking about how you and your team can undermine oppression in your organization.  

  • Reflecting on the Way Your Firm Is Structured: To what extent and in what ways are features of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and/or imperialism organizing our firm’s structure? What other models might we try? What are our feelings about ceding power and where do they come from?
  • Reflecting on Recruitment, Hiring, and Retention: To what extent do we thoroughly interrogate the ways we devise new positions, select questions and set the environment for interviews, and bring new people in to ensure that we are not falling prey to any of the four big categories of oppression logic, their intersections, or their sub-categories? How does our culture encourage authentic, supportive retention (or not) of people who have less power in the matrix?
  • Reflecting on Money: How have our attitudes and beliefs about compensation, profit, and competition been shaped by the logic of not only capitalism, but its intersections with white supremacy, patriarchy, and imperialism? What would our firm and its work look like were it not situated in a society organized by normalized oppression? What policies and practices will allow us to push back?

These examples are just the beginning. You can – and I hope you will – begin to question development and management decisions big and small by using the oppression matrix to look critically at how you are designing and running your organization, from choosing what kind of insurance plan you offer to deciding how you conduct staff meetings. 

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating IC TIG Week with our colleagues in the Independent Consulting Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our IC 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.

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