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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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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  • Raqib Chowdhury · January 12, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    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!


  • Rita S Fierro · January 12, 2018 at 7:36 am

    Beautifully said Fatima!

    And well synthesized!



  • Shanta · January 12, 2018 at 3:06 am

    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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