ICCE TIG Week: Speaking Truth to Power and Participation in International and Cross-Cultural Evaluation by Sandra Ayoo

I am Sandra Ayoo, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Educational Research Methodology, currently teaching, practicing and doing research on Program Evaluation at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. I practiced program evaluation in international development for several years in over 35 African countries as a national and international expert, and I experienced firsthand the power dynamics in evaluation work. Program evaluation is an emerging profession practiced across disciplines and borders. Evaluation in the Global South abound in power differentials between the commissioners of evaluation, local and international evaluators, and the local intended users of evaluation. In situations where the commissioners of evaluation predetermine the specific evaluation questions, data collection and analysis methods, and what counts as truth, evaluators in the Global South have little wiggle room and power to exercise professional autonomy. In most situations, the funders or commissioners of the evaluations require an international evaluation expert or firm from the Global North to lead the evaluation processes. The reality is that the international experts from the Global North often lacked knowledge of the local contexts and what counts as truth, and they frame evaluation without much attention to the issues of culture, values, or the authentic voice of the local stakeholders. I recall having several conflicts with powerful international government funding agencies over the inclusion of negative findings and unintended consequences in reports, and these were often the voices of the beneficiaries of the interventions.

Lessons Learned:

As a national native expert, I was challenged with ensuring that the voices of the local stakeholders were heard and what counted as native truth was reflected in the reports. This challenge is common to many native evaluation professionals in the Global South. I was not familiar with the professional guidelines or resources necessary for managing the power landscape in evaluation. Novice and expert evaluators would greatly benefit from using these resources to manage power landscape in evaluation and to improve the integrity of the evaluation.

Hot Tip and Rad Resources: Power exists at all levels of evaluation. Both native and international evaluation practitioners can protect the integrity of evaluation by attending to issues of power, privilege, and indigenous ways of knowing through engaging cultural guides from the local communities to participate in the evaluation planning, analyses of data, and sense-making of the evaluation findings. I found this article on the nuts and bolts of conducting culturally responsive evaluation approaches by Askew, Beverly, and Jay (2012) very useful and relevant in framing culturally responsive evaluations 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.

2 thoughts on “ICCE TIG Week: Speaking Truth to Power and Participation in International and Cross-Cultural Evaluation by Sandra Ayoo”

  1. Sandra, this is very profound
    Local knowledge is always desirable to have a fair judgement of evaluation findings.
    But the challenge in Africa is that, some fields such as evaluation remain unexploited and lack the right skillets. Most international organizations prefer to outsource evaluators from the West. I personally believe that this is an area that needs African Leaders’ attention to invest in Evaluation curricula in order to empower emerging African evaluators in international development.

  2. I ever experienced a similar situatiin when evaluation of an organisation involved my office and i frankly stated that i never knew much about that organisation’s activities! Truth be told, it was during the war and this organisation was operating from elsewhere and would come into our location and work without our knowledge! When the debriefing report highlighted this, i was taken to be failing them and they asked me to retract that, to which i refused to this day! It brought a change of the organisation”s leadership and they took me as ‘bad’. My principles cannot make me do otherwise! Thanks for bringing this up Sandra!

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