MSI Fellowship Week: Naomi Hall-Byers on the Importance of Social and Cultural Context in Culturally Responsive Evaluation by Naomi Hall-Byers

Greetings! I am Naomi Hall-Byers, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. I am also a 2017 Minority Serving Institution fellow. During last year’s annual conference, my cohort and I explored the intersection between the social determinants of health (SDOH) and culturally responsive evaluation (CRE). SDOH are social and environmental factors affecting an individual’s health and quality of life. This article focuses on one SDOH, social and cultural context. According to Healthy People 2020, social and community context may include factors such as social cohesion, civic participation, discrimination, incarceration, social networks, norms, and social capital. As an applied social psychologist, with a background in public health, I am acutely aware of the importance of understanding social and cultural context. I provide some thoughts on how to incorporate this SDOH into health focused evaluations.

Lessons Learned: If we want to make a bigger impact on health, as evaluators, we have to move away from focusing primarily on individuals. Individual behavior is important, but behavior still takes place within the context of the social environment. This context is both complex and intersectional, and ultimately influences the program and its evaluation components.

Lesson Learned: It is important to situate CRE within elements of an evaluation framework. The key is to embed CRE throughout the evaluation process. One way to do this is to create and conduct an evaluation WITH the organization, and not FOR the organization. Understanding the cultural context in which the project/program operates, and being responsive to it, will create stronger cooperation, trust, collaboration, and engagement. This will ultimately produce better data, which can strengthen the organization, and the community it serves.

In closing, it is important for health-focused evaluators to seek to understand how each of the five SDOH areas intersects with CRE in ways that affect the health status of individuals and the communities in which they live.

Rad Resources: For more information on the social determinants of health visit Healthy People 2020:, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

For more information on culturally responsive evaluation, and access to a plethora of resources, visit the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment:

The American Evaluation Association is AEA Minority Serving Institution (MSI) Fellowship Experience week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from AEA’s MSI Fellows. For more information on the MSI fellowship, see this webpage: 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.

1 thought on “MSI Fellowship Week: Naomi Hall-Byers on the Importance of Social and Cultural Context in Culturally Responsive Evaluation by Naomi Hall-Byers”

  1. Mikaila De Sousa

    I am drawn to this piece because I work in the healthcare sector and one of my directors teaches a course about the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). In the past, I’ve helped her mark her exams and in going through them was fascinated by the material. I think one of the best key distinction you made in this piece was when you wrote, “create and conduct an evaluation WITH the organization, and not FOR the organization”. Often, I feel like the Western culture gets caught up in the “God complex” when we do work for any disadvantaged community whether through volunteer work or evaluations. This leads me to highlighting that I really appreciated your determination to focus on creating evaluations that are culturally responsive and account for the context of which the evaluation is taking place. As you mention, the best way to achieve the most accurate result while respecting the community that you are in is to work with them so that you create an environment where cooperation, trust, collaboration and engagement can thrive and ultimately produce better information. With my work at the Office of Global Health at the University I work for, people regularly undervalue SDOH and overlook cultural context when completing volunteer or service-learning activities and we actively try to instill the concept of the reciprocal relationship between them and the organization. It’s so nice to see that these same values are reflected in evaluations. I think it would relevant to have evaluator’s who specialize on conducting health focused evaluations to have training on SDOH and how they intersect with community context and what is means for the evaluation process.

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