ICCE TIG Week: Power and Participation in Evaluation through Reflection by Maddison Staszkiewicz

Hello AEA Colleagues! I am Maddison Staszkiewicz, a young and emerging evaluator who found my passion for evaluation while working on an international and cross-cultural evaluation team. As discussed by Jandt in An Introduction to Intercultural Communication (2018), it is not possible to have effective communication with others without first understanding their culture and the similarities and differences between cultures. Through my experience, I have realized that being an effective evaluator stems from self-reflection. Evaluation involves measuring the value or merit of a program, but it also requires having communication and building trust between stakeholder groups to conduct this work, especially in international and cross-cultural evaluation. Without self-reflection, this cross-cultural understanding is not possible.

Before approaching stakeholder communication in evaluation, we first must understand ourselves, our stakeholders, and the power dynamic in which we operate. Which stakeholders hold the most and the least power? What power do we hold as evaluators, through other identities (race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.), and from their intersection? After reflecting on this, we can consider how to conduct the evaluation using a culturally responsive and equitable approach.

There can be a discrepancy between the interests and power of stakeholders, which can lead to questions about competing priorities in designing an evaluation. It is also important to research the historical contexts between stakeholder groups and the different microcultures that may exist within populations. Patrick Fine suggests in a 2019 podcast episode “The Currency of Power, Addressing Power Dynamics Within Development”, for The Deeper Look podcast, that no person or organization can know everything about another culture.

While we cannot know everything about another culture, we can continue to ask questions and learn in service of others. With a goal of participation in evaluation, we can work with stakeholders to develop evaluations that are culturally responsive and equitable. Along the way, we should build a reflective practice to recognize our own areas of improvement and to regularly reflect on lessons learned— many of which will help steer future work. Building a reflective evaluation practice is an opportunity to build a deeper understanding of power in evaluation and how that understanding can serve to guide participation among stakeholders.

Lesson Learned: Working in a cross-cultural team does not guarantee that an evaluation practice is culturally responsive. We must take active steps to conduct culturally responsive cross-cultural evaluations. Building an intentional, reflective practice is a way towards this goal, and small steps can make a significant impact on an evaluation practice.

Rad Resource: For more on building a reflective practice in a cross cultural evaluation team, check out this blog post.

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.

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