Integrating equity-based learning into our evaluative practices by Elizabeth McGee

Elizabeth McGee

Can evaluative learning be performative? As evaluators, we collectively loathe the proverbial adage that evaluation reports are dense documents that collect dust on organizational shelves or, worse yet, get sent to the paper shredder. We know that a lack of attention to learning undermines our efforts to ensure that our evaluation insights, results, and recommendations can be utilized by end-users, whether it be clients, colleagues, funders or community-based collaborators.

My name is Elizabeth McGee (she/her), I am the Founder and Senior Consultant at LEAP Consulting. We specialize in producing evaluation information that allows clients to create more impact, and to demonstrate and sustain these results.

Throughout my career in evaluation, in working as both an independent consultant and as an internal evaluator within various not-for-profit and not-for-profit funder organizations, I have seen learning efforts fall flat because attention to equity-based learning practices were not considered.

What is equity-based learning?

Equity-based learning is a concept I first came across in the educational field and was struck by how effectively it described a phenomenon I had seen happen in my own learning work within the evaluation field. In the educational field, equity-based learning practices are articulated as those practices that ensure every student has the resources and support they need to be successful. In an ideal classroom using equity-based learning practices, factors such as race, culture, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual organization, gender identify, and gender expression (and others) do not limit students from reaching their full learning potential. Further, equity-based learning practices acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of perspectives that students and teachers bring to the classroom, including diversity of bias, traumas, identities, experiences, assumptions, and backgrounds.

How does equity-based learning translate to the evaluation field?

For those of us in the evaluation field who are working in, for, and with the community, equity-based learning practices draw parallels to our efforts as evaluators in community empowerment, in the community engagement ideals of collaboration and co-creation, and in our capacity-building efforts. Equity-based learning practices add to these efforts, helping us to pay full consideration to the diversity of our end-users. In considering this diversity, we can ensure to create learning practices that are reflective of our learners’ needs, thus maximizing the utility of our evaluation results.

For us as evaluators, this practice must include providing the time and space to the evaluative learning processes so that we truly honor the diversity of bias, traumas, identities, experiences, assumptions, and backgrounds. When our learning practices ignore this diversity or even engages with it in a superficial way, our learning becomes performative. When our learning from the communities whom we serve becomes performative, we stunt our ability to unpack root causes and to disrupt the status quo. Furthermore, the call to accommodate learning diversity in our evaluative work can also disrupt structural bias in the evaluation field and stretch our evaluative practices in new and exciting ways.

Rad Resources

Center for Public Education: Educational Equity

Better Evaluation: Report and Support Use

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1 thought on “Integrating equity-based learning into our evaluative practices by Elizabeth McGee”

  1. Hi Elizabeth,
    I wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading your article! I’m a Masters student doing a course on the evaluation of social programs. Two things stuck out for me in your post:

    The first is your notice of the issues with purely “symbolic” evaluations which result in no actual use or no substantial adjustment based on findings. I really appreciate how you acknowledged the importance of considering the context of the stakeholders, intended users, program clients, etc. in terms of equity. The kind of deep understanding of organizations and programs required to be a successful evaluator should absolutely include an understanding of the factors listed (race, culture, gender, religion, ethnicity, gender identify, etc.), how they interact with the program, and how to consider them thoughtfully in designing your evaluation.

    The second is how addressing that equity can lead to less bias in the evaluation field. As issues of equity become more and more visible, I think you’re right that the “structural bias” in evaluation (and other fields) can be reduced, and lead to a better understanding of how to provide reporting and recommendations that address everyone’s needs.

    Really thank you so much for your post!
    Richard S

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