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ICCE TIG Week: Mitigating Risk Posed by the Evaluation of Advocacy Work in the Global Souths by Jenn Esala, Kirsten Anderson, Craig Higson-Smith & Liz Sweitzer

Hello! This is Jenn Esala, Kirsten Anderson, and Craig Higson-Smith with the Center for Victims of Torture along with Liz Sweitzer with The Evaluation Center at the University of Colorado Denver.

We were a part of a project to develop human rights-focused advocacy evaluation tools with and for Global South activists. The Global South refers to peoples and lands that have historically lacked power, agency, and/or resources due to colonialism, capitalism, racism, and globalization. Based on a critical review of the literature, we found that less than ten percent of scholarly literature on human rights advocacy evaluation is produced by scholars working in the Global South.  There are, however, advocacy evaluation considerations that are specific to and amplified in the Global South. In this post, we highlight one critical consideration when conducting advocacy evaluation in the Global South: risk introduced through evaluation. Based on (1) a systematic review of scholarly literature on advocacy evaluation, (2) a pilot study of an advocacy evaluation toolkit for activists in the Global South, and (3) our own experiences in the field, we offer some recommendations when addressing risk posed by advocacy evaluation, particularly in the Global South. We consider risk to community members, evaluation participants, activists, evaluators, and the advocacy work itself.

Hot Tips:

  • Consider how an evaluation can create risk by attracting attention to advocacy work. When designing data collection strategies, a critical question is, “what are the risk implications of the level of visibility of our evaluation methods?”  
  • Consider how evaluator identity can create risk by attracting attention to advocacy work. When the evaluator is not a member of the local community and particularly when evaluators are from the Global North – with their relative wealth, foreign citizenship, and/or social positions of privilege – their work can exponentially increase visibility, attention, and risk to the people with whom they interact. 
  • Assure the evaluator(s) understand the local political and social context and related risk-factors. Risks are often poorly understood by non-local evaluators and underestimated by those from contexts in which there are stronger human rights protections. Local expertise should take primacy in evaluation design and implementation.
  • Work to assure that everyone involved in the evaluation has a shared understanding of the risk level of the evaluation project. Ideally, advocacy evaluations plans will include security guidelines for all aspects of the evaluation project (resources linked below).
  • Be ready to make difficult decisions about the evaluation that give primacy to risk reduction. For instance, be prepared to choose evaluation questions that minimize the risk to participants and activists; some evaluation questions will not be safe to answer. It is also appropriate to terminate an evaluation when safety is compromised, and be prepared to do what is possible to amend any harm caused.

Adequately addressing and reducing risk posed through evaluation is one of the most fundamental ways evaluators can support human rights advocacy in the Global South.

Rad Resources:

Advocacy Security Resources –



Advocacy evaluation toolkit designed with and for activists in the Global South –


From the toolkit, a support document on risk assessment for advocacy evaluation in the Global South –


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating International and Cross-Cultural (ICCE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the International and Cross-Cultural Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our ICCE 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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