IPE TIG Week: Transformative Framework as a Paradigm for Indigenous Community Evaluation by Jeremy Braithwaite

Jeremy Braithwaite

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!

Rad Resources:

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.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Indigenous Peoples in Evaluation (IPE)  TIG week. All posts this week are contributed by members of the IPE Topical Interest Group. 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.

4 thoughts on “IPE TIG Week: Transformative Framework as a Paradigm for Indigenous Community Evaluation by Jeremy Braithwaite”

  1. Hi Jeremy,

    Many thanks for your article. You raise important points that we must consider when engaging with cultures and communities different from our own. We cannot make assumptions that our ways of knowing, philosophical perspectives, or views of evidence are the same. We must also be aware of the ways in which our identity, privilege, and equity are at play in our interactions with individuals and communities during the evaluation process.

    I was informed of the the AEA365 Blog through an introductory course on program evaluation. I am currently creating my first program evaluation design for a program that seeks to holistically impact Indigenous communities in Canada by providing youth with access to sports. I have chosen to use a participatory evaluation approach so that I can understand how the program is working from the participants’ point of view.
    Involving the participants of community based programs in the evaluation process can lead to “better data, better understanding of the data, more appropriate recommendations, [and] better uptake of findings”(Gujit 2014, p.2). However, after reading your article it becomes more clear the work an evaluator must do understand data within the community’s cultural context and epistemology and to make recommendations that are appropriate and likely to be used by the community.

    Your questions, “How do I honour Indigenous culture and Indigenous ways of knowing and how might issues of privilege and power interfere with this process?” is crucial for me to consider at this stage in my program evaluation design. As your refer later in your post, Indigenous people are their own “resource experts” and in order to ensure that privilege and power do not limit the voices of the experts, an evaluator should develop an authentic relationship with community members and demonstrate the desire to learn and understand what they have to say.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective and experiences on this topic!


  2. Bart Kwiatkowski

    Hi Sharon, or Jeremy.
    My name is Bart K and I’m a PME student at Queen’s University. I would love to get a hold of Jeremy to ask him a question about PE and Indigenous peoples. If there is an email link I could get, that would be tremendous.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.