My name is Roxann Lamar and I work in research and evaluation at the Center for Human Development, University of Alaska Anchorage. Our local AEA chapter, the Alaska Evaluation Network (AKEN) hosted a discussion on cultural competence, particularly relevant toNative cultures. About 19% of Alaskans have all or partial Native heritage.
The AEA’s statement on cultural competence in evaluation is comprehensive, covering a multitude of issues involved in working together in a diverse world. What is presented here is a perspective to think about – how people might respond to thelanguage we choose to use– not that any languageis universally right or wrong.
Lesson Learned: Our event was called, “Cultural Competence in Evaluation.” Our panel of cross-cultural experts included persons of DegXit’an Athabascan, Gwich’in Athabascan, Navajo, and non-Native heritage. All had a lifetime of personal and professional experience with cultures indigenous to Alaska. They reminded usat the startthat the words we use are important and informed us they found the term “cultural competence” to be distasteful. Theyhighly encouraged us to use the term “cultural humility” and noted it is not a new idea.They also suggested“cultural relevance” as an acceptable alternative that makes more sense in some contexts.
Our panelists explained the problem with“competence”is that it implies we will reach a point where we can say,“We areculturally competent.”That is what is inferredwhen people go to a workshop for a certain number of hoursand earn a certificate in cultural competence.Our panelists pointed out that these trainings oftendo more harm than good. For example, focusing on characteristics of specific cultures inadvertently encourages stereotyping.The panel’s audience was intrigued, and discussions among colleagues continued long after the event.
Hot Tip: In many places or contexts, a term like “cultural humility” is a respectful choice. Without a lot of explanation it conveys a humble posture of learning about self and others. It implies openness, equity, and flexibility in working with anyone.
Rad Resource: With a little looking around, I found Cultural Humility: People, Principles, & Practices. This is a 30-minute, 4-part documentary by Vivian Chávez (2012). It is focused on relationships between physicians and patients, but the principles can beappliedin other applications.
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