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LA RED TIG WEEK: Striving for Authenticity or Accuracy? by Art Hernandez

My name is Arthur (Art) Hernández, and I am a Professor at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas and a member of the LaRED TIG, among others.

I have been an “evaluator” almost since the beginning of my career (which was a long time ago), certainly well before I understood that evaluation is a theory-based discipline much less ever heard of the idea of culturally responsive and equitable evaluation (CREE).  

Lesson Learned

There is a difference between accuracy and authenticity.  Simply, something can be “accurate” without being authentic but anything authentic must also be accurate. The implication of this learned lesson is that evaluation which seeks to be meaningful should strive for authenticity rather than accuracy.  

An example of this in action is reflected in the way evaluation is influenced by the notion of intersectionality. Succinctly, the idea of intersectionality suggests that, to be authentic, definitions of identity must be considered at least in terms of all elements of self-perception, roles, labels, experiences, and conditions.  This must be so regardless of how informants might choose to identify themselves, much less how evaluators might seek to characterize them. Those characterizations will be to a greater or lesser extent unauthentic by virtue of being inconsistent, if nothing else.  

Given the preceding, neither can evaluators have or be presumed to have “cultural expertise” by virtue of having some claim of identity with a given cultural group.  This means, for example, that the presumption that all Latinx evaluators can engage in or inform evaluation design or execution with Latinx communities such that it is CREE is invalid. This is true regardless of language, residence, country of origin, etc.  Finally, this suggests evaluation which merely demonstrates an association between some categorical cultural label (even if self-applied) and some outcome (even if accurate) cannot be assumed to be authentic without further scrutiny given the variabilities already mentioned as a matter of intersectionality.     

An implication for evaluation, regardless of methodology, seems to be that ideal practice is at least to some extent community-based and participatory. Done well, this approach recognizes informants as experts based on lived experience and seeks to be informed by that expertise rather than merely exploit it.  Further, this suggests that all evaluation which seeks to be accurate must, of necessity, be culturally responsive and equitable to be authentic. This is so since the notion of “culture” also pertains to identity groupings which go beyond social, racial, or ethnic (and therefore applies to all evaluation with groups) and that the identification and expression of identity is conditional regardless of observable characteristics or experience.

Authenticity is discoverable and depends on a variety of skills and knowledge on the part of the evaluator as well as informant experience. The successful evaluator will identify, describe and/or demonstrate value (the essence of evaluation) recognizing and fully considering that equity requires authenticity.  One implication of this is that methods and metrics must be devised which allow for the expression of value from the perspective of the informant rather than solely determined by the evaluator or client.  It is equally clear that since authenticity is conditional, what is authentic at one time is not necessarily so at another which suggests the danger of reifying results regardless of how obtained.     

Finally, authenticity suggests that, as with other things, aggregation of information from or about people always comes at the cost of specificity, accuracy, and applicability.  While it can be useful to describe the behavior of groups as an exploratory exercise, it is dangerous as well since it often leads to damaging stereotyping. Therefore, any discussion of groups in action or outcome at a minimum must be presented and considered in terms of conditions and experience as well as methods, predominance, relationship, difference, range, or dispersion.

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.

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