Greetings, fellow AEAers! I’m Jeremy Braithwaite, PhD, community evaluator and AEA enthusiast. Like many of us, my evaluation training was very much discipline-based and skewed heavily toward quantitative approaches. Randomized control trials and statistical models were the gold standards of evidence. Conversations about ethics were usually confined to the pages of IRB applications. Methodologies were entirely “objective.” When I began working with Indigenous communities, I quickly learned that all the evaluation training I’d had did not prepare me for working in these contexts.
There has been a persistent disconnect between the field of evaluation and Indigenous epistemologies, philosophies, and worldviews. Federal mandates requiring science-based definitions of evidence often dismiss the cultural context of program implementation, evaluation design, and ethical issues/legal requirements of Tribal Nations. As evaluators strive to become “culturally responsive” and promote “diversity and inclusion,” it is imperative that we do not marginalize or alienate the very communities and people we serve. A transformative framework can yield more inclusive evaluation practice.
Hot Tip: Reframe the Ethics Conversation
Transformative paradigms are predicated on a code of ethics that promotes cultural respect, social justice and human rights. Therefore, in addition to considering how your evaluation methods will protect human subjects, equal attention must to paid to how your work can further social change, as well as uplift the sovereignty of individual Tribal Nations. When working with Indigenous communities, questions to consider include: How do I honor Indigenous culture and Indigenous ways of knowing and how might issues of privilege and power interfere with this process? What will the community gain by participating in the evaluation? The National Congress of American Indians’ values and principles can help in constructing these questions.
Hot Tip: Avoid Distancing
The evaluator as an objective, unbiased scientist may be the archetype of empirically-driven evaluation but can be counterproductive and potentially damaging when serving Indigenous communities. Indigenous people are their own resource experts in their communities and these voices must be engaged throughout the evaluation planning process. Evaluators must establish an interactive relationship based on authenticity and trust with Indigenous communities, as well as privilege any cultural protocols and ordinances developed by sovereign Tribal governments. Dialoguing with Tribal leadership throughout all evaluation phases is key.
Hot Tip: Engage in Reciprocity
I’ve heard Indigenous community members say “evaluators come and go, we never hear anything about the outcomes, and our problems worsen.” Knowledge sharing is the keynote of Indigenous epistemologies and concerted efforts to bring findings back to communities is a must. One way to do this is to organize community potluck events and invite Tribal leadership and the broader community to attend evaluation briefings. From personal experience, I’ve found that hosting such events is a great way to verify conclusions, contextualize “surprise” findings, and secure collective permission to proceed with next steps. And it can be great fun!
For a foundational background on transformative evaluation, read this article by Donna Mertens.
For an overview of Indigenous methodologies, review this article by Indigenous scholar Renee Pualani Louis.
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