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LaRED TIG Week: Reflections and Examples of Decolonizing Our Research and Evaluation Practices by Martha Hernández Martínez, Kshitiz Karki, Samuel Leguizamon Grant, and Rebecca Saito

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Headshots of authors Martha Hernández Martínez, Kshitiz Karki, Samuel Leguizamon Grant, and Rebecca Saito
Martha Hernández Martínez, Kshitiz Karki, Samuel Leguizamon Grant, and Rebecca Saito

Hello everyone! We are Martha Hernández Martínez, MPA, Kshitiz Karki, MPP, Samuel Leguizamon Grant, PhD., and Rebecca Saito, MA. We are part of the staff at Rainbow Research, and we identify ourselves as members of the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), immigrant and refugee communities in Minnesota. We want to share with you our thoughts and experiences with decolonizing practices. Through some reflections and examples, we will share what we have learned.

Let’s begin with the manners and methods that we use to gather information. We believe in pushing ourselves outside of the norm. Instead of continuing to ask the same questions of what, when, and why, we need to ask ourselves and the field about how we ask questions, for what reasons, and to whom. In the following, we unpack our work and offer examples of those moments in which it became clear to us that there is more work to be done to truly talk about and embody decolonization practices. 

  • In the data collection arena – which tools? 

Current practice requires us to use recognized and legitimized tools and we are expected to follow the format that has been borrowed from disciplines such as psychology. Little is discussed on the utility and ethics of these tools in relation to collecting data from communities that have been historically harmed by colonizing research agendas and methods. A good illustration of those tools that comes to our mind is the survey. Survey has become the default tool for data collection in projects to such an extent that we do not take the time to question its utility in our work. For example, if we do a climate survey in an organization to assess the embodiment of gender justice without first thinking about who is in leadership and what their level of commitment is to advancing gender justice, doing a survey could reveal a problem for which the organization does not want to take responsibility, resulting in increased hostility toward women and non-binary employees (and male employees who actively advocate for gender justice).

  • Culturally and linguistically specific and appropriate work

It is common practice to produce the tools for data collection following western scientific methods and using English as the de facto language, and then to think about the translation. There are few tools that have been designed with the community of interest in mind that has actively put decolonization into practice. We were part of an effort to make Minnesota a more inclusive state for older BIPOC, immigrant and refugee adults. In the design, there was no consideration of the first language of the elderly native, immigrants, or refugees, especially those above 65 years old. Reflecting on this, we can see how the effort was defeated from the start and how we promoted exclusion instead of inclusion. A language justice approach requires consideration of how to communicate to populations and sub-populations most effectively in any project. The language we use matters as much as the tone and clarity.

  • Evaluators check her/ his/we/they own bias at the front door

We have learned from recent projects that the authentic practice of decolonization that intends to pursue equity for all members of the community must require that we evaluators examine and evaluate ourselves continuously in the same way that we evaluate communities. When working with BIPOC, immigrant and refugee communities, we need to put ourselves under the lens and continuously ask the following questions: 

  • Does everybody speak English or do they speak some other language (e.g., Spanish/Swahili/Nepalese)?
  • Does everybody have the same level of accessibility?     
  • Are we using words that are familiar to people? 
  • Are the words, questions, style used triggering or causing harm? 
  • Are the language and tools sensitive towards the community? 
  • Does the way we ask questions or interpret findings embody harmful implicit or explicit biases?

Hot Tips

Finally, we invite everyone to consider that our field of evaluation and research can only change if we change ourselves through everyday practice and expectations of our work and relations with communities. At a minimum, we must: 

  • Check our own biases and the biases of our team. 
  • Ask and test within the community the tools that are appropriate to the community’s self-determining research and evaluation agenda.
  • Incorporate the language and culture of the community in the tools. 
  • Analyze the data with community members. 
  • Share results and discuss them with the community. 

Rad Resources

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Latina/o Responsive Evaluation Discourse TIG Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from LA RED Topical Interest Group 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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