Letting Go of Perfectionism by Lisa Danielson Gierach & Katie Winters

Greetings! We are Lisa Danielson Gierach and Katie Winters, independent evaluation consultants. As white practitioners committed to dismantling racism, we have become peer supports to each other by sharing resources, talking through missteps, and holding each other accountable. Here we share two examples of our missteps with BIPOC* communities we supported each other through.

Lisa’s experience: “Paternalism” is a characteristic of white supremacy where those in power make decisions in the assumed best interest of those without power (Jones and Okun, 2001). To overcome paternalism in my work with Black and Latinx communities, I’ve found it important to co-design planning processes with my nonprofit clients that meaningfully engage and center the staff and community members most impacted by the work we’re doing together. In a recent project, however, I received feedback that a planning retreat I facilitated had not felt inclusive and, in fact, caused harm to some participants. I turned to Katie to help me process where things had gone wrong. Katie helped me see where I had overlooked some factors and also how my misstep related to a broader context. She shared a similar experience of her own and offered feedback about my plans for attempting to repair the harm. In the end, I made a personal apology that acknowledged participants’ experience and opened the door for more explicit and ongoing conversations about inclusion in our future work together.

Katie’s experience: One aspect of white dominant culture I have been working to overcome in my evaluation practice is the “sense of urgency”, which makes it difficult to take time to be inclusive, to think long-term, or consider consequences (Jones and Okun, 2001). Yet when I found myself working under a tight timeline on a foundation-funded project, I passed that urgency on to nonprofit grantees. In an uncomfortable call with an Executive Director, I learned that my engagement process ran counter to their organizational culture and values. It was too rushed for staff and community stakeholders to make an informed decision. After conferring with Lisa (and other trusted colleagues), I opted to send a hand-written note to the grantee to acknowledge their experience, apologize for my misstep, and place the power to decide if/how to proceed in their hands rather than going “above” them and involve the funder. 

Supporting each other in this way has offered a number of benefits:

  • We acknowledge that our experiences are worthy of attention.
  • We have a safe space to talk through missteps and identify concrete actions to make amends.
  • We receive encouragement to stay present and accountable to the BIPOC communities we partner with.

Hot Tip: Share resources with peer supports and make time to discuss learning and personal reflections. Here are a few we recommend:

*Black, Indigenous, and People of Color

The American Evaluation Association is exploring White Privilege Week with our AEA colleagues. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from AEA 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.

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