NPF TIG Week: Speaking Truth to Power as an Internal Evaluator in the Non-Profit Space by Valerie Ehrlich

Hello! My name is Valerie Ehrlich and I serve as Secretary for RTP Evaluators in North Carolina, where we recently hosted Hazel Symonette, PhD, for our annual professional development workshop. That experience proved both timely and transformational in terms of helping me understand what equity-minded evaluation can look like in everyday practice.

Dr. Symonette’s workshop provoked a persistent question for me: How do I adopt an equity mindset into everything I do as an evaluator? I can appreciate and work toward large-scale evaluations that answer equity questions and illuminate disparities, but those opportunities are far less frequent than my everyday practice as an evaluator.

The timing turned out to be perfect, as I was simultaneously preparing to lead a 2.5 hour meaning-making session with my colleagues at CCL. The goal of that session was to develop action steps from a recent organization-wide employee engagement survey. We had all of our results in a variety of formats (means and benchmarks) and a handy heat-map showing us the “red” areas we should focus on. Let’s just dive in there, I thought!

However, based on Dr. Symonette’s workshop, I shifted my energy to completely adopting an appreciative inquiry approach. Rather than focus on the heat map areas generated from year-old survey data, I completely shifted the question to an appreciative lens: what does it look like to be an engaged employee in our group at CCL? And, how can we do more of what is working really well to leverage our strength and improve on the things holding us back?

That subtle shift turned out to be fruitful. Despite some initial skepticism, everyone in the room was engaged. We voted with sticky-dots to reassess our priorities based on our current functioning. We produced vision statements in subgroups and followed that up with specific action steps grounded in our strengths.

There were two notable outcomes of the session I led. First, our ‘diversity and inclusion’ group produced the clearest and most compelling vision statement and the most robust action steps. Second, all of the action steps became the foundation for our groups’ ‘action plan’ to send to our organization’s leadership. This plan, generated from a place of our strengths as a group, also introduces key action steps that will challenge the organization to move forward on other important areas.

The experience of appreciative inquiry for an internal meaning-making session created the conditions for upward influence and connection building. A success of equity in everyday practice!

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group (NPFTIG) Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NPFTIG 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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