Kathryn Bowen on “Framing” Feminist Evaluation

Greetings from Music City! I am Kathryn Bowen, Vice President for Research & Evaluation at Centerstone Research Institute. I am involved with the planning, implementation, and reporting of multiple program evaluations. Universal professional values like honesty, integrity, accountability, tolerance, and respect for people influence all my work. My feminist values are aligned with fairness, social justice, equity, and empathy regardless of political, social, economic, geographic, gender, ethnic, and age differences.  I intentionally design evaluations to increase the likelihood that the data collected, analyzed, and reported help me understand the multiple realities and lived experiences of women and sensitizes me to social structures that perpetuate inequity, oppression, social injustice, and powerlessness of women. This is done most commonly by including multiple and mixed methods in my evaluation/analysis plans. My ultimate aim is to generate knowledge to create change that makes a difference in the lives of women. A disclosure and conscious decision on my part is that in some program contexts I need to conduct these feminist evaluations without out “framing it” as feminist.

Lessons Learned:

  • I have found that using the term feminist can undermine the intent of the evaluation work. Instead, I strive to be clear about values and objectives of the evaluation.
  • Depending upon the program context and the culture/perspective of program participants, my approach as feminist might exclude rather than include women impacted most significantly by the program.
  • It is important to recognize that my concerns as an educated, white, middle class woman may not be normative for traumatized women enrolled in co-occurring mental health and substance abuse treatment programs.
  • Systematic oppression can be totally invisible to women who have internalized it from the cradle.
  • To integrate feminist guidelines that help to frame the evaluation planning and implementation it is best to be transparent about what I mean by “feminist evaluation” rather than being strident about using the term “feminist” or labeling myself a “feminist evaluator”.

Hot Tip:

  • Feminist evaluation principles need to be reflected clearly and words marked by authenticity rather than a label.
  • As a feminist evaluator, clearly frame your values, seek to understand the values of program stakeholders, and establish ways to communicate shared and divergent values in the process. This can help you understand lived experiences and identify structural inequality that exists in organizations, institutions, governments, or social networks where embedded bias provides advantages for some members and marginalizes or produces disadvantages for others.

Rad Resources:

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