We are Wanda Casillas, Sahiti Bhaskara, and Jack Serna, evaluators and applied researchers of color at different stages of our careers from starting our training to mid-career professionals. Wanda is a faculty member at Claremont Graduate University (CGU) with over 15 years of evaluation experience. Sahiti and Jack are students at CGU beginning their evaluation and applied research training. We’ve been thinking about the challenges of preparing for a career in evaluation and intersecting fields when you are a person of color or interested in working with and supporting communities of color.
Lately, there has been a rising awareness of the need for evaluators and researchers with a diverse range of skills, training, and lived experiences that can serve an equity agenda through their work. Though this need has always existed, stakeholders are increasingly coming to the realization across sectors, leading to a scramble among stakeholders to both provide a supply of skilled persons of color and to request representation among evaluators. Some fields and sectors are further along in thinking and/or planning for this supply-demand tension than others, but regardless of where you begin to investigate this balance, the field is woefully unprepared to meet the rising need.
In a 2019 report, Engage R&D summarized five major challenges for recruitment and retention of skilled persons of color in philanthropic consulting: tokenism, impostor syndrome, weight of community, conforming to dominant culture, and being a lone voice on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Though these issues greatly resonate with our experiences, we offer two other important challenges that the evaluation and intersecting fields must learn to address quickly. First is the challenge of cultural traditions among Western social scientists and researchers that do not accept or understand the value of lived experiences for informing “good” evaluation and applied research. It is a source of conflict among colleagues to accept that biases are not absent from research and, as such, the best way to address biases in studies is to diversify the points of view of the researchers. Left unchecked, these tensions leave skilled, trained persons of color on the fringes of mainstream evaluation and applied research rather than at the center of potential paradigm shifts.
The second issue we offer calls on all stakeholders to begin reimagining a cross-cultural practice of evaluation and applied research. For decades, researchers of color have succeeded in academia by working with others that share lived and professional experiences and points of view. This has lead to silos in a complicated relational dynamic among peers and colleagues that don’t always agree on how to engage in research. A forward-facing evaluation field calls for breaking down these earlier necessitated silos among professionals. True diversity will lie in the cross-pollination of ideas, practices, skills theories, and a respect for innovative approaches to evaluation and applied research.
Even considering strides taken to date, our field and those adjacent, have a great deal of work left to do – not only to prepare persons of color and meet demands in the field, but to consider paradigm shifts that make room for long-subjugated points of view that make inclusion possible.
Read the report by Engage R&D with support from the James Irvine Foundation to get insights on what the philanthropic sector faces if they want to engage more evaluators of color: Listening for Change – Evaluators of Color Speak out About Experiences with Foundations and Evaluation Firms.
Co-authors Fontane Lo and Rachele Espiritu explore this issue in the Funder & Evaluator Affinity Network’s Call to Action Series: Evaluation Is So White: Systemic Wrongs Reinforced by Common Practices and How to Start Righting Them.
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