Greetings, my name is Giovanni Dazzo and I’m an evaluator at the Department of State and a doctoral candidate at George Mason University.
Over the last few years, I’ve been working alongside nonprofit staff and Kaqchikel community members in Guatemala, seeking to understand how applied research and evaluation can serve as a form of restorative practice for individuals who have experienced trauma.
This idea came after a day of participatory activities, where we co-defined our evaluation priorities and questions. As we shared a meal, one Kaqchikel community member said: “When you are asked to participate, but no one has ever asked you before, you’re afraid.” What was most striking about this statement was that this was not the first time that they had been engaged in research or evaluation.
Although many practitioners regard participatory methods as encouraging inclusion, we don’t often question the assumption that individuals feel comfortable participating in the first place. Do community members feel that they hold sufficient power and control to participate alongside us?
For this reason, the conceptual framework for this work begins with my Kaqchikel co-evaluator’s words. By reflecting on their words, I imagined approaches that could go beyond the usual talk of doing no harm; rather, moving toward the idea that evaluation can do good—in this case, by using it as a tool to promote peace, justice, and healing for those who have experienced trauma.
This also led me to question the validity of our discipline, but not in the typical way we think about the term. Rather, I’ve started to think about restorative validity:
- What does evaluation do for others?
- When we work with those who weoften define as marginalized, what does our evaluative work do to restore their humanity?
In reflecting on validity, I went back to its root, which simply means ‘strong’ or ‘healthy’. So, I questioned the strength and health behind evaluation when we ask communities to collaborate and participate, especially when their human rights have been violated by governments, corporations, and, at times, researchers/evaluators. In my work, it also means that one Kaqchikel community member no longer sees themself as afraid to participate.
- Recognize communities as co-creators of conceptual frameworks. Include co-evaluators’ words alongside those of prominent scholars, as they are likely influencing your thinking.
- Engage theory and practice. Urgency in practice can lead to dangerous assumptions. In developing this conceptual framework, these works—by Stanfield, and Chouinard and Boyce—have played a critical role in my thinking.
- Acknowledge those who welcome you. Before I end, it’s necessary that I recognize the time, knowledge, and space shared by Kaqchikel co-evaluators. This work is conducted on their land in San Juan Comalapa in Guatemala, near the site of Iximche’, the capital of their former kingdom.
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