MIE TIG Week: Much Ado about Privilege by Fatima Zahra

Fatima Zahra

My name is Fatima Zahra, an evaluator and educator from Bangladesh. Having spent over six years evaluating various public interventions and policies in education, health and agriculture, I am currently enjoying teaching research methodology and education development at Penn. During my time in the field, I learned about ethical evaluation practices, which align closely with existing work in critical and culturally competent evaluation.


Hot Tips:

These tips are especially relevant for those who live in the Global North and research/evaluate socio-economic and health-related issues in the South.


  • Listen carefully: Regardless of your research background or orientation (quantitative or qualitative), find a way to truly listen and observe. Ask: “Who has constructed my knowledge about the program and its effectiveness”? Listen to map your understanding of the program according to each stakeholders’ perspective. Usually, program participants know more about program efficacy than anyone else. It’s important to be responsive to challenges with language, dialects, and accents to ensure you capture an accurate representation of participants’ experiences. Do not hesitate to seek help and provide compensation for assistance you receive.


  • Check your privilege: Despite many research skills we learn in graduate school and through practical training, what really makes for an effective evaluator in a foreign country is knowledge of our inherent biases, positionality and limited knowledge of the culture. Successful evaluators are humble, when interacting with children, youth or adults from underserved communities, not sharing their privilege.
  1. Be honest about whether your research will benefit participants in the long term.
  2. If the research does not benefit the community, do not hesitate to revisit and revise the evaluation questions and design. New knowledge of the community might require rehashing research questions and methodologies with support from your center/mentor/institution.
  3. Ask whether the questions you ask are informed by your biases or observations from working with involved participants.
  4. Find out what questions are of relevance to the community’s long-term wellbeing.


  • Be respectful: Often we forget that research participants owe us nothing. The time they spend with us answering (at times tedious) questions is a gift. Be respectful of participants’ willingness to engage in the evaluation by removing the burden of participation as much as possible. For example, if a focus group is scheduled around dinner, consider providing a meal or compensate participants if they have to leave their jobs or families to participate.

It may take a while to get all of this right the first time. However, these tips will come handy if you want to make a real difference in the lives of the people you work for/with in low-income countries.

Rad Resources:

Babones, S. (2016). Interpretive Quantitative Methods for the Social Sciences. Sociology, 50(3), pp.453-469.

Symonette, H. (2004). Walking pathways toward becoming a culturally competent evaluator: Boundaries, borderlands, and border crossings. In M. Thompson-Robinson, R. Hopson, & S. SenGupta (Eds.), In Search of Cultural competence in evaluation: Toward principles and practices. New Directions in Evaluation, 102, pp. 95–110.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Multiethnic Issues in Evaluation (MIE) Week with our colleagues in the MIE Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from MIE 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.

5 thoughts on “MIE TIG Week: Much Ado about Privilege by Fatima Zahra”

  1. Hi Fatima,

    Thank you so much for sharing your perspective and tips for those who live in the Global North and research/evaluate socio-economic and health-related issues in the South.

    I am a teacher and just started a new position working with students that are English language learners, doing English assessments. Usually I am the first teacher they encounter before going to their neighborhood school. I have been putting a lot of thought into ways I can ensure that I am making students and their families comfortable, and your article highlighted a lot of points that I have been thinking about.

    Your point about checking your privilege hit home for me. You discussed not sharing your privilege, but being humble when interacting with people. I can assume this would be challenging as an evaluator, as you would be seen as an outside professional and they may not understand your role or the part they have to play in the evaluation. I would assume that “first impressions” are important in building the relationship to ensure a successful evaluation. I struggle with how I can make a good first impression as well as making the assessment experience as smooth and pleasant as possible. The amount of time I have to interact with each student is minimal (less than 2 hours), and I want to ensure their experience is a positive one. If you have any tips on ways to make a good first impression and connection, I would greatly appreciate them.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Very sensibly written – these hot tips are a must-read for aspiring development workers heading to less privileged communities. It’s all about knowing where we come from and what informs our agenda; it’s about respect and selflessness through an acknowledgement of our biases and the genuineness of intent in reaching out.
    Keep up the great work, Dr Zahra and thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi Raka
    Recognized me!!! Hopefully yes…
    Informative and basic essential for the beginners like me.
    Be respectful part is really important to remember.

    Best wishes for you
    Felt proud to see you as a Dr.

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