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Quantitative Measures Reduce People of Color to Numbers: Changing The Paradigm by Quisha Brown

Hello, AEA365 community! Liz DiLuzio here, Lead Curator of the blog. This week is Individuals Week, which means we take a break from our themed weeks and spotlight the Hot Tips, Cool Tricks, Rad Resources and Lessons Learned from any evaluator interested in sharing. Would you like to contribute to future individuals weeks? Email me at AEA365@eval.org with an idea or a draft and we will make it happen.

Author Quisha Brown

My name is Quisha Brown and I am a nonprofit consultant and co-founder of Humanistic Care, LLC, an organization offering culturally responsive solutions to tough challenges faced by nonprofits serving marginalized people. I’m also the Author of “Racial Equity Lens Logic Model & Theory of Change” as well as the newly released short and simple guide “Using the Progressive Outcomes Scale Logic Model to Evaluate Systems Change: A Housing Industry Case Study”. This blog post discusses strategies for how to stop reducing people of color to numbers by focusing evaluation on their real life stories rather than quantitative data.  

It’s the beginning of a new year and many nonprofits across the country are still struggling with how to demonstrate their social impact objectives. Old habits can be really hard to break  – – In the past, the nonprofit world’s emphasis was simply on showing the number of people from the targeted community accessing their programs.  Now, largely because of the disproportionate economic impacts of the pandemic on communities of color and the subsequent widening racial wealth gap, that emphasis has taken a much needed shift. Funders are now more focused on seeing the social impact programs are making in the lives of people.

There are a few very important action steps that nonprofits can do now at the start of the new year to improve their ability to demonstrate their social impact. First, the ability to demonstrate impact must start in the way programs serving communities of color are designed. Programs must be designed with input from the people that are to be served. No one knows about the underlying needs better than the people themselves. Input from the people served helps nonprofits target their programmatic interventions directly to the true underlying needs of the people instead of basing interventions on their own assumptions about people’s needs. Identifying the underlying needs of people before designing a program also makes progress of the program’s impact a lot easier to track and measure.

Second, program evaluation must be framed from a place of equity and justice. In the past, and even today in many localities, evaluation of a program consists of collecting subjective survey data from program participants which asks them to share their opinions of their experience in a program rather than measuring the real impact the program had in their lives. Starting from a place of equity and justice means placing a strong focus on measuring how well people are being supported by programs rather than how many people are accessing their programs or how well they may have liked the program.

Third, it’s important to have internal regular data reporting & analysis throughout the cycle of any program to give everyone involved an opportunity to review and discuss progress of the program. Every nonprofit wants to be able to tell a story of their progress and thereby impact, but few nonprofits take the time to pause during the program and focus on how things are going. It’s important to ask questions like, “Are we making our intended progressive improvements in the program participants’ lives? If not, what are the barriers? What might we need to adjust in our program interventions?” It’s ongoing questions like these which help to ensure that the stories of communities of color are fully told and understood, and the solutions emerge as truly their own. We can no longer use quantitative measures to reduce people of color to numbers without hearing and addressing the needs found in their stories. As Evaluators, we can work with the organizations we serve to help change the paradigm of how we frame evaluations.

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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