Hi, I’m Carlos Romero, Co-chair of the LGBT Issues TIG. Being gay makes me a better evaluator. Let me explain. I specialize in systems evaluation, which is grounded in systems thinking theory. It involves testing hypotheses using four universal patterns of thinking: distinction making, part-whole system structure, relationships, and perspective. When evaluation is focused on learning, the driving force behind my work, there is a premium on perspective. Our human tendency is to see the world through the lens of what we already think is true. Coming out later in life, after a brief stint in conversion therapy, I know firsthand what it’s like to be locked in a perspective. This blog is personal, but it illustrates how our personal lives can influence our professional lives.
Prior to my ex-communication, a pastor summarized the religious perspective behind the position that homosexuality is a sin, a choice, and can be changed. “We will always be loving, always be learning, but we will never change our position on this issue.” How can you truly learn if you only consider evidence that supports one position and dismiss any information that might threaten it? The heated debate on sexual orientation is an extreme example, perhaps. But how often do we do this in subtler ways in evaluation?
What does it take to change our perspective? Direct experience can adjust our thinking quickly. A friend who lost everything in the recession went from being adamantly opposed to government programs of any kind to being grateful for the services his special needs son received at his public school. A dramatic shift to be sure, but that same friend still can’t fathom how I could possibly “choose” to be gay. Personal experience is powerful, but unreliable as a change agent. We can’t experience every perspective directly, but we can get better at perspective-taking if we understand its nature.
Perspective involves the other universal patterns of thinking: distinction-making, part-whole systems, and relationships. LGBT, for example, is not monolithic nor does it exist in a silo. There are the distinct parts of LGBT and well as distinct parts to our identity such as generational, spiritual, political, etc – all of which relate in diverse ways. I experience the G in LGBT – but that is in combination with being a 47-year old male, Latino, Christian, upper middle class, liberal from New Mexico. I must be cautious about making assumptions about other LGBT perspectives.
Being mindful of perspective in a systems thinking context is what cultural responsiveness looks like in practice. It’s understanding that the same thing might look different from another perspective. Taking perspective is a skill that can be learned and honed; being good at taking perspective is recognizing that you can never be perfect at it. You must always allow for the new and unknown. Perspective is one of my most valuable tools. Understanding that an alternative perspective’s validity does not necessarily threaten a differing or opposing perspective – but it might.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.