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OL-ECB TIG Week: Embracing Resistance to Build Evaluation Capacity by Allison Prieur

I’m Allison Prieur (she/her), an independent consultant and evaluation PhD student from Essex County, Ontario, Canada. I’m interested in building evaluation capacity to support human service non-profits to advance system change and social justice. I’ve taken some courses in Organizational Change Leadership at Western Michigan University as part of my PhD program.

Lessons Learned

I’ve been practicing evaluation in some form for almost 20 years. One sentence in a required reading (and subsequent class presentation by the lead author) has changed the conversation I have with clients perhaps more than any other. In ‘The Road to Commitment’, Loup and Koller say “…what looks like resistance is part of the journey to commitment and is not at all resistance”. I have always encouraged organizations to listen to the voices of the people they support and their staff, but frequently struggle to get leaders to stop seeing those who speak up as resistant and challenging.

The first time I encouraged a client to view the resistance as a sign of commitment, I saw an immediate shift in their openness and understanding. I reminded them that apathy is far more difficult to overcome than engaged feedback, and they agreed. Together, we became curious about where the person was coming from. They then acknowledged that our work would benefit by including the diversity of perspectives that the folks we were speaking to were generously sharing. In the long run, it’s far easier to plan for everyone than to ignore those who are willing to provide constructive feedback.

Rad Resources

I’m definitely not the first person to talk about resistance in the evaluation space. In fact, in researching this post I came across Vidhya Shanker’s post from way back in 2011. In it, she urges evaluators to consider that resistance may be a legitimate critique. Taylor Ellis and Debra Nelson-Gardell told us to see resistance as normal. As evaluators, we’re encouraged to remove our ego by Stanley Capela and Ariana Brooks (and I would add supporting organizational leaders to also remove their egos). Art Hernandez teaches us that cultural knowledge, respect, and real relationship can help reduce risks and improve collaboration in evaluation.

Evaluators have opportunities in working with organizations to not only help them learn from the evaluation, but to rethink the way they engage with their staff and their communities. I’m at a point in my career where I’m privileged to be able to choose to work with organizations who share my values, although even then they can sometimes be frustrated by what they see as a ‘squeaky wheel’. For me, reframing resistance with organizational leaders has helped me have conversations that enhance organizational culture, minimize risk of speaking up, create safer spaces, and ultimately better supports, for groups who have been gaslit and silenced for far too long.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Organizational Learning and Evaluation Capacity Building (OL-ECB) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our OL-ECB 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. 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.

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