LGBT TIG Week: Becoming an evaluation ally to international LGBTI civil society organizations by Robin Lin Miller

I am Robin Lin Miller, Professor at Michigan State University, where I direct doctoral training in Community Psychology and am Associate Director of the Masters’ Degree and Certificate in Program Evaluation.

When the Covid-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, I was finishing an evaluation of a multi-country human rights advocacy initiative to challenge barriers faced by gay and bisexual men and transgender women to accessing HIV services in the global south; specifically, impediments due to stigma, discrimination, and violence. The project countries all struggle to meet sexual health needs of LGBTQI people. Each criminalize same-sex relations or use public decency laws to the same effect. Against a hostile backdrop, the constituent-led advocacy groups in the project fill gaping holes in the availability of affirming care and conduct rights-based advocacy for LGBTQI citizens. They are leaders in the development of a robust network of LGBTQI-led civil society organizations within their countries.

Hot Tips:

On evaluation allyship:

Safety first! Safety is a major consideration for LGBTQI organizations in fraught contexts. Offices are routinely vandalized. Workers are vulnerable to harassment and violence. Organizations operate under government surveillance and staff under threat of imprisonment. An evaluator’s presence can draw unwanted attention. Evaluators must thoroughly assess threats to the safety and security of everyone and consider how evaluation activities and results dissemination might imperil individuals or current efforts. Evaluators must exercise extreme caution in revealing information about LGBTQI organizations, including basics such as the location of offices. Even the many ways in which our locations are now tracked via cellular phones, fitness trackers, and other Bluetooth-enabled and cellular devices can pose risk. The security hazards from different methods of data collection, including digital methods vulnerable to online surveillance or methods that require assembling people in groups, must be carefully reviewed.

Respect community expertise. Ask the community about safety considerations for their setting. Engage them in identifying the best ways to protect constituents throughout the evaluation process. Ensure that your risk mitigation efforts are acceptable to those at the highest risk from the evaluation. It is all too easy to do more harm than good.

Evaluate to nurture and transform. In many parts of the world, LBGTQI organizations are fledgling. A few staff people with limited non-personnel resources perform this mighty and urgent work. Evaluation and its potential benefits may be unfamiliar. Evaluators can introduce evaluation as a positive force for nurturing context-appropriate advocacy leadership and evidence-informed reflection. Especially in settings where international donors drive evaluation, rather than only speak to the interests and perspectives of donors, evaluators can support LGBTQI-led organizations to develop transparent systems of learning from and accountability to their diverse constituents.

Employ trauma-informed procedures. There are many points of resilience and celebration in the work LGBTQI organizations perform and in the daily lives of staff and constituents. Yet, many have endured great personal trauma due to their LGBTQI status. Staff and volunteers are routinely exposed to wrenching stories and events because their daily activities involve talking and writing about, redressing, and documenting multiple forms of violence, exploitation, and degradation. Constituents live those stories. Trauma-informed evaluation procedures are essential to ensure the emotional safety of those who are participating in an evaluation process. Trauma-informed procedures give stakeholders maximum control. They allow LGBTQI people to become the authority over how to document and share their trials and triumphs, while fostering a culture of self-care. Trauma-informed evaluation demonstrates caring and respect of the dignity of LGBTQI people.

Rad Resources

AEA365 provides sage advice on tailoring trauma-informed principles to evaluation.

FrontLineDefenders provides comprehensive online resources on safety planning and digital safety for human rights defenders.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating LGBT TIG Week with our colleagues in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Issues Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our LGBT 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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