LGBT+ TIG Week: Trends That Have Influenced the Creation and Advancement of LGBTQ+ Evaluation by Eric Barela

Hello, I’m Eric Barela, a California-based evaluator formerly of Salesforce and now a co-founder of Altruous. I identify as a cisgender gay man and my pronouns are he/him. I have been a member of AEA since 2000 and in those 20+ years, I have noticed several trends in our field that I believe have informed LGBTQ+ evaluation’s development.  I’ve listed a few below. 

First off, there was no LGBTQ+ evaluation paradigm when I started out!  There were LGBTQ+ evaluators, but no actual coordinated approach to working with LGBTQ+ people. We were out there, but a formal community was needed. That community was eventually created through the founding of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Issues Topical Interest Group. Through the work of both LGBTQ+ and Ally practitioners and scholars, we now have a body of knowledge on how to engage in LGBTQ+ evaluation. 

I’ve also seen a move toward deep understanding of context within the evaluation enterprise. The visionary evaluative approach — championed by Beverly Parsons, Lovely Dhillon, Matt Keane, and others (including me) – specifically calls for evaluators to recognize the world as composed of living, entangled systems and to discover, reveal, and respect intersectionalities. As a field, I believe we are beyond seeing objectivity and contextual understanding as opposing ideals. Objectivity, like many other skills, is a learned practice. Evaluators can no longer be seen as being objective purely because they are external to the program/organization being examined. Conversely, deep contextual understanding could provide more accurate and credible findings and recommendations. The need for contextual understanding can also be seen in the AEA Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation and in the AEA Evaluator Competencies. In the latter, there’s even an entire domain on context! When I look at the principles of LGBTQ+ evaluation being offered by Phillips, et al., this imperative for contextual understanding is reflected in such evaluation being informed by history, prioritizing allyship, and valuing lived experience. 

Additionally, evaluators are being asked to reflect on their own practice. We can no longer see ourselves as independent of our own work. Like it or not, we influence our own work. However, this is no longer being seen as a negative. The need for evaluators to be self-reflective is showing up in more places. In addition to being contained in the AEA Evaluator Competencies and the AEA Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation, this need also shows up in the AEA Guiding Principles. As an association, we have determined that it is ethical for an evaluator to be self-aware and reflective! LGBTQ+ evaluation is a dynamic approach, constantly changing to adapt to emerging cultures and contexts. The LGBTQ+ evaluation principles encourage self-reflection to understand one’s role within this change. 

Our field is now valuing deep contextual understanding, both within our work and within ourselves. I don’t know if LGBTQ+ evaluation could have existed back when I first joined AEA, definitely not in its current form. We are understanding the need for equitable practice, which is now being seen as strengthening the evaluation enterprise, not weakening it. I truly hope LGBTQ+ evaluation is here to stay. 

Rad Resources 

The American Evaluation Association is hosting LGBT Issues 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 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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