Promoting Equity Through Participatory Evaluation Approaches Week: Centering Equity as a Process and an Outcome by Jack Tebes

I’m Jack Tebes, a professor at Yale School of Medicine and a faculty at YaleEVAL, an evaluation group of The Consultation Center at Yale, where I am Executive Director. This week my YaleEVAL colleagues and I have continued a dialogue on how participatory evaluation approaches can be used to promote equity.

In this week-long blog series, we center equity as a process: how we do our evaluations and how we engage evaluation stakeholders. Whether that process involves conducting community-based participatory evaluations, evaluation capacity building, doing needs assessments, or making evaluation challenges explicit, we have sought to show how participatory approaches can foster equity. Centering equity requires a continuous choice and sustained commitment by the evaluator to that participatory process.

Stakeholders engaged in participatory evaluation – program and community partners, funders, and evaluators – all bring their lived experiences, which include differences in power and culture (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, age, social class, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, and other differences). Systemic biases and oppression, such as racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and classism, are rooted in those lived experiences. Incorporating power and cultural differences into an evaluation is thus critical. In this series, we have tried to illustrate this by discussing the choices we make during an evaluation, the methods we use, the evaluation capacity we seek to enhance, how we assess needs and strengths of an underrepresented group, and the collaborative stance we adopt to address evaluation challenges. These are just a few of the ways this can be done.

When we center equity as a process in evaluation, we also center equity as an outcome. That is, by using a participatory evaluation process that incorporates differences in power and culture among evaluation stakeholders, we incorporate differences in systemic biases and oppression into our design and how we implement it through all phases of an evaluation. Doing so makes it more likely that those lived experiences will inform why we achieved the desired outcomes for particular population groups or subgroups, and why we did not. At the very least, we will understand better what must be done to improve outcomes for all. 

Lessons learned: By centering equity as a process in participatory evaluation, we also center equity as an outcome.

Rad resource: There are several resources that illustrate how centering equity as a process can lead to more equitable outcomes.

  • Chicago Beyond, an impact investor for youth equity, has published a guidebook for community organizations, researchers, and funders, “Why Am I Being Researched?” that identifies seven power inequities in community-based research and evaluation.
  • Also, even though evaluation and science differ in critical ways, in the 21st century each increasingly seeks to develop authentic collaborations with public stakeholders. In two other readings, I and a colleague describe how such collaborations are more valid and useful, and promote equity and justice.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Promoting Equity Through Participatory Evaluation Approaches 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.

2 thoughts on “Promoting Equity Through Participatory Evaluation Approaches Week: Centering Equity as a Process and an Outcome by Jack Tebes”

  1. Hi Dr. Tebes,

    Thank you for sharing your insightful article here!

    I am Youngwon and am studying for my Master’s degree at Queen’s University in Canada. This semester, the course I am taking is called Program Inquiry & Evaluation. I have been learning about how the evaluation trend has changed and some dilemmas around them. One of the fascinating aspects recently I found was that collaboration/participatory evaluation can contribute to achieving social justice. As I was reading your writing, I was thrilled to see you mentioning that “we have sought to show how participatory approaches can foster equity”. This statement is in line with what Weiss pointed out in the article that “Including clients in the evaluative process would also help redress the inequalities in access to influence and the imbalance of power that beset marginalized groups in their social interactions with the larger society. In House’s term, it would move-even if a little way-toward greater social justice” (Weiss, 1998, p30).

    Thank you for sharing the practical ways to pursue equity in the evaluation, and I have learned that we should center equity as a process in evaluation. More specifically, when “all participators bring their lived experiences, which include differences in power and culture”, we are closer to revealing equity in evaluation as you suggested. I love the idea of embracing all different cultures and power here. And participatory evaluation plays a role in revealing social justice and equity in society. Recently, I had a 16PF assessment, and it is a self-report personality test. Before I took the test, I was told that the test does not reflect well people’s different cultural backgrounds other than caucasian and that what is learned from my case may be applied in later tests. I did not know what it meant at that time. However, now I can clearly see that they are running their program, getting supported by participatory evaluation perspective and pursuing to bring people’s lived experiences in their program. I think it is a great example of how the participatory evaluation perspective can sharpen programs and contribute to achieving social justice.

    Thank you again for your insight to AEA365!

    Weiss, C. H. (1998). Have we learned anything new about the use of evaluation? American Journal of Evaluation, 19, 21-33.

  2. Kathleen Robson

    Hi Jack.
    I am currently completing my Professional Master’s of Education and am new to the field of program evaluation. As an elementary teacher in Toronto, Canada I am currently interested in the role of volunteers in our school’s nutrition and meal program and am using this educational opportunity to explore it further. One of the reasons I am interested in this is to promote greater equity in our school community. Your comment, “When we center equity as a process in evaluation, we also center equity as an outcome” struck me as it summarized so well some of the conclusions I was making on how I would need to approach this evaluation.

    I concluded early on as I read about the various approaches to evaluation that a participatory approach would guide my design. Theories and studies in my coursework made strong arguments to include all stakeholders throughout the process and that this inclusion would prove invaluable to the outcomes of the evaluation. However, it was your sharing of the Rad Resource, Chicago Beyond: Why Am I Always Being Researched?, that helped me see this in a much more practical and tangible way. To an evaluation newcomer like me, this guide could serve as a tool to bridge all the theory that I had been reading and give me a starting place on how to ensure that community involvement is addressed throughout this process. The nutrition and meal program for the elementary school I am evaluating is obviously much smaller than the projects for which this document was likely designed, but it appears that the goals and the values are the same. Thank you for your post. It helped me see some of these theories in a very practical light.

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