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Independent Consulting (IC) TIG Week: Independence Sparks Equitable Innovation by Jodie Boisvert

Schuman, N. (2023, May 22). It Takes a Village: Embracing DEI as a Company Community. PR News. Retrieved from: https://www.prnewsonline.com/dei-as-community/ Retrieved on 21 May 2024.

Hello AEA! I am Jodie Boisvert, MPA, the Founder and President of Change Amplifiers Research and Consulting. Our tagline is “Equitable Research and Evaluation.” We primarily provide needs assessments by engaging the community in identifying challenge areas and solutions to those challenges. My motto is that I am not the expert in someone else’s lived experience and that people know exactly what they need to thrive – they simply need to be empowered to ask for it.

Before becoming an independent consultant, I worked as an evaluator for nonprofits. Time and time again, I would provide concrete needs directly from the community, only to be told, “We think they really need this other thing instead.” The discouragement and frustration from the community were palpable. This is reminiscent of white supremacy – the idea that the mainstream society knows what everyone needs and that they are the only ones in the position to provide it.

As an independent consultant, I am better able to engage the community more fully. Prior to becoming an independent consultant, I was controlled by the organization – they developed the research question and the interview/focus group questions. My role was to act as a facilitator. This tactic is the epitome of a top-down, capitalistic, and white supremacist strategy. This does not empower the community to identify their own challenges or solutions. This approach tells the community that the organization knows the problem and the organization knows the solution. This type of white saviorism is what has continued the disempowerment of historically marginalized communities.

I hire (and pay) people from the community to act as ambassadors – creating the research questions, the interview questions, the analysis, and the dissemination of results to the organization and the community. In anthropology, this is considered a “decolonized” approach. Ultimately, the ambassadors act as co-collaborators and peer reviewers. This allows me, as the evaluator, to know that the evaluation is designed in such a way that is empowering to the community, best amplifying the community’s voice and co-creating solutions to their most pressing problems. The most crucial thing to monitor when hiring an ambassador is the power dynamics within the community itself. The ambassador should be someone with their ears to the ground, not another top-down, privileged community leader. When possible, the ambassador should be selected by the community themselves.

Lessons Learned

Working with ambassadors is not without challenges – they are oftentimes unfamiliar with research methodology and the process of conducting a project. However, with a little training, their fresh eyes could yield the most productive and equitable results. The key to training an ambassador is providing enough information to grasp research while not stifling creativity.

Ambassadors understand the culture of the community and can decipher what the results mean in a more impactful way. As outsiders, evaluators can only assume what results mean. The ambassador acts as a peer reviewer to verify the results. This verification process is why the ambassador should be completely embedded in the community. The ambassador should be someone who can speak on behalf of the group.

Further empower the community by offering the ambassador authorship rights on the final product. This demonstrates to the organization that the community is in control of their experience and encourages further engagement with the community from the organization once the evaluation is complete.

Ultimately, ambassadors are crucial research team members and will yield empowered and equitable results.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting 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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