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LGBT Week: Robin Lin Miller & Miles McNall on Putting Disempowered People at the Center of the Evaluation

Can community members be meaningfully engaged in evaluations when time is short? Our experience suggests that they can. We are Robin Lin Miller and Miles McNall. Robin is Professor of Ecological and Community Psychology and Miles is Associate Director of the Community Evaluation and Research Collaborative, both at Michigan State University. We have evaluated community-based HIV prevention programs for gay and bisexual men of color since the mid-1980s. We recently completed Michigan’s first statewide HIV-prevention needs assessment for young Black gay and bisexual men. The state required community involvement and completion of the project in 12 months.

Lessons learned: Involving communities in a meaningful fashion and in ways that are safe, respectful, and responsive to their needs, concerns, and experiences can be challenging. Yet, community members’ involvement helps to ensure that an evaluation adequately and credibly represents their values, perspectives, and needs. Providers and policy makers in Michigan paid particular attention to our work because community members were visibly and deeply involved. Below we offer tips on how to facilitate meaningful involvement.

Hot tip: Embed inclusive processes in every possible phase of the evaluation. Six diverse young Black gay and bisexual men from across the state served as co-investigators and worked on essential tasks including: establishing information gathering priorities; designing recruitment procedures and interview protocols; selecting and training interviewers; analyzing and interpreting data; and disseminating the results at state forums. We made decisions as an 8-person team. If we had to act too quickly for a team discussion, we shared with young men what we did and why immediately via a group email.

Hot tip: Go the extra mile – literally. Face-to-face meetings better allowed everyone to participate equally, fully, and comfortably. We invested time and money so that transportation and young men’s at-home obligations were not obstacles to participation. We drove across the state and back so that men without cars, drivers’ licenses, or money could attend meetings. We covered men’s driving expenses and those of adults in the community who volunteered to drive them to meetings; we provided community drivers food and a comfortable place to work during our meetings. We paid young men for their time. We shared a meal at every meeting. Eating together fostered an environment of caring and respect, and contributed to young men’s feelings that this project was theirs.

Rad resources: Merten’s Transformative Research and Evaluation offers theoretical and practical guidance on how to conduct evaluations that put disempowered people at the center of an evaluation. She provides thoughtful insight on how evaluators can legitimate the experiences of people who lack social power and promote socially just outcomes.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating LGBT Evaluation Week with our colleagues in the LGBT AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our LGBT members and you may wish to consider subscribing to our weekly headlines and resources list where we’ll be highlighting LGBT resources. 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.

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