MN IBPOC in Evaluation Community of Praxis Week: (Under)understanding of the Complexities of Cultural Insiders in Evaluation by Chou Moua

Nyob zoo and hello! My anglicized name is Chou Moua. It’s the closest way that people who speak languages without tones can pronounce my name. I’m a unicorn—the only queer Hmong male evaluator that I know of. It doesn’t mean that there are no others, nor does it mean that Hmong people don’t do evaluation. It just means that in this field with a name of a profession that doesn’t exist in my language, I’m the only one I know of who is practicing it.

It’s almost comical really, when I “evaluate” for clients. Most often there’s a translation job attached to it with less pay; or it’s really a translation job without any say in the evaluation. My expert knowledge, whatever that may be, is valued in evaluation work in the Hmong community, but most often that knowledge is outlined by someone from outside the community. Someone picks and chooses what works for them, most likely a majority-culture way of thinking, and smashes it into ours. I mean, if some zebra came to collect dead flies and somehow declared that my magical unicorn kingdom was in a deficit of hummingbirds, you would scoff the way I do, too.

Authors drawing of two people and a pile of paper with a speech bubble that says, "Great to have you on this team. Now we're going to have you translate surveys for the pilot. I'm sure you're familiar with ...." The text gets increasingly smaller.

What’s even more comical are other Hmong people who, since colonial times, continue to be those to facilitate this smashing. We don’t have words or even ways of thinking that align with evaluation in the Western context, and yet we have plenty of helpers who are the translators, missionaries, and self-appointed experts that are white-aligned. We have rockstars in the community, whose adherence to forced perspectives has garnered them prestige. Often, I question myself: Do I have to become a zebra or a common draft horse even just to survive, let alone to grow as an evaluator and possibly a rockstar?

Here’s a dilemma: While we have a word for “mammoth,” we have none for “utilization-focused.” Our language and culture are as old as the mammoths, but we don’t always have words and concepts that match English ones. I could simply do what others do, and make up nonsensical words and haphazard a method so that foundations can feel a little better. I feel that we’re sort of cornered into this messy hustle, because sometimes it’s the only way to do it. The mismatch is so grand. I understand that we all contribute to these forced perspectives and arbitrary values ascribed to data. But I feel the ick roll through my body more.

As a unicorn, I declare that I am against this evaluational colonization.

Hot Tips

  • Find champions but be aware of gatekeepers: Having someone who has passion and knowledge is essential, but understand that only a few people or organizations in communities new to Western ways of evaluation are vocal. Awareness of this tension can make a more fitting evaluation without necessarily discrediting anyone.

Recognize Dual/ Triple/ Quadruple Roles: BIPOC evaluators working in BIPOC-focused evaluation may be negotiating Insider/Outsider status both with their community and in evaluation. The desire to conform, please, or even receive a paycheck can influence how BIPOC evaluators may sway in negotiation within different communities. Often, these roles may seem to sacrifice one dimension of an individual’s identity for another. Moreover, not only are evaluators translating a language and/or culture, they may also be translating concepts, feel forced to create or coin unknown concepts, and balance the expectations of multiple communities. In collective cultures, the work does not always stay at work but could have actual impacts on the evaluator in their community setting.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting MN IBPOC in Evaluation Community of Praxis Week. 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.

1 thought on “MN IBPOC in Evaluation Community of Praxis Week: (Under)understanding of the Complexities of Cultural Insiders in Evaluation by Chou Moua”

  1. Aimee Corrigan

    Thank your for sharing your experience as a unicorn.

    I am currently taking a course on program evaluation through Queens University and am new to the process. Within my course, I am working with programs I know well within a cultural context I also know well. Experiences with evaluators who are not necessarily well versed in the culture of those they are interacting with through the evaluation process has been on my mind throughout much of my learning.

    Personally, I have my own experiences with dual identities as a person of mixed race. It is difficult to balance the differences in culture, the expectations of others, and the expectations of one’s self. I can imagine this can be even more true when working as an evaluator trying to please all parties and earn a living while also making morally responsible decisions.

    It can be difficult to go against the grain and confront well established practices. Do you have ideas for how we can encourage more people to become champions and advocate for a balance between their cultures and Western ways of evaluation?

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