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LA RED TIG WEEK: Preparing the Evaluation Field for Evaluators of Color in Modern Times by Sahiti Bhaskara, Wanda Casillas, and Jack Serna

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.

Rad Resource

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.

Rad Resource

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.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting La RED TIG Week with our colleagues in the La RED Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our La RED TIG members. 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

1 thought on “LA RED TIG WEEK: Preparing the Evaluation Field for Evaluators of Color in Modern Times by Sahiti Bhaskara, Wanda Casillas, and Jack Serna”

  1. September 21st, 2021
    Preparing the Evaluation Field For Evaluators of Color in Modern Times
    Sahiti Bhaskara, Wanda Casillas and Jack Serna

    A warm Hello to Sahiti Bhaskara, Wanda Casillas and Jack Serna . My name is Pauline Pitcher. I am a student in the Professional Masters of Education Program at Queen’s University and am currently taking a course in Program Inquiry and Evaluation. I have what I would like to consider an eclectic work and education background.
    My interests currently lie in training as well as instructional design. Some of the training which I have delivered has been within the scope of diversity and equity. I realize the importance it plays in helping to create healthy,
    balanced organizations.

    Many years ago I worked for a profit organization(s); our staff was diverse, but I never really considered the role of the evaluator in respect to the program outcomes, the representation of people of color, their contribution and role in shaping the final product. By this I mean reducing
    bias and creating a culture of understanding and in some cases either planting the seeds of a learning organization or enhancing an existing one.

    This theme of lack of diversity seems to cut across many disciplines. I feel it is especially important that the evaluation field be brought up to speed in this matter as you have clearly identified and explained. As you mentioned, there is an awareness of the need for diversity in the field, yet the reality is that there is a notable gap in meeting this need.

    It is important to see people of color in the discipline as it speaks to what’s possible in terms of career pathing and it provides perspectives informed by people with different cultural backgrounds, lived experience and worldviews.

    Scaling up recruitment practices appears to be an obvious solution but presents “several challenges as corroborated by the 2019 report .”(Engage R&D). Furthermore , recruitment goes beyond hiring and encompasses retention as well. Recruitment to correct lack of diversity can be performative and misguided. Similarly, turnover impacts the number of individuals in the field and compounds the challenge of diversity. I was excited by your reimagining of a new role and place for “lived experience” and its potentiality as well as your underscoring the intersectionality of evaluation and research and to use your term the recognition of the “cross
    pollination of ideas, practices, skills and theories.”

    Finally, I found your article informative and the tone conveyed was one of urgency and immediacy. This is obviously a very important issue to all of you and I share your concern. There seems to be “buy in” from stakeholders and this would help to facilitate participatory evaluations. Dismantling paradigm shifts is a colossal undertaking but starting with re-examining
    hiring practices, recruitment strategies and developing strategies to counteract challenges through focused realistic measures is a good place to begin. I realize that it is simplistic in theory but in reality it is complex and multi-layered.

    Thank you for your thought provoking insights
    Pauline Pitcher

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