Labor Day Week: Evaluation as a Labor of Love by Martha A. Brown

Hello! I’m Martha A. Brown President of  RJAE Consulting. Lately, an endless stream of conference speakers, blog writers, Indigenous evaluators, and authors have confronted and challenged my “programming” as an evaluator. Traditional evaluation methods place tremendous emphasis on research methods and evaluation theory – but not necessarily on the people we work with and for. At the 2017 Canadian Evaluation Society conference, Nora Roberts told me that the very tools of our profession continue to oppress and silence others. Her statement sent me reeling. Gail Barrington spoke about the value of reflecting upon our work and our methods so we can improve our craft and learn more about ourselves. Indigenous speakers at multiple conferences reminded me that we are all interconnected and that our relationships with ourselves and each other are the most important things in life. All of this can be summed up in one word: love.

Additionally, I research, practice and teach restorative justice, which is grounded in Indigenous values such as interconnectedness, openness, honesty, vulnerability, and respect. I bring these values and restorative practices to my work. However, too many times I have felt like I am “breaking all the rules” that I learned in graduate school as I infuse love into my work and the people I work with.

When I read the invitation to submit a blog on evaluation and labor, the first thing that came to mind was to write about putting love and relationships at the center of our work. What would our work look like if each of us took time at the outset and throughout every evaluation to build trusting relationships with our “stakeholders” and “participants”? Do those of us who are products of Western culture even know how to do this? In a society that values goals, outcomes, and return-on-investment above all else, how can we return to the teachings and the ways of our ancestors and put our relationships at the center of everything we do? We knew this once, but have forgotten.

In AEA, many evaluators are truly committed to changing the world, to improving people’s lives, and to creating more just and equitable ways of doing what we do. But we don’t always know how to live out our goals. That requires us to critically reflect upon what we were taught, how we do our work, and to ask who is being inadvertently silenced, harmed, or oppressed during an evaluation – or in an evaluation classroom. It requires us to love.

Love requires us to engage our whole selves – mind, body, heart and spirit – in our work. We can learn how to do this by studying Indigenous values, practices, and ways of being. I am so grateful to those who helped me wake up, including our own Nicky Bowman.

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Labor Day Week in Evaluation: Honoring the WORK of evaluation. The contributions this week are tributes to the behind the scenes and often underappreciated work evaluators do. 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “Labor Day Week: Evaluation as a Labor of Love by Martha A. Brown”

  1. Great post! Not often we see “evaluation” and “love” in the same sentence. And I like your emerging suggestion that evaluation should be made into a restorative practice (though I may be putting words in your mouth.)

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