RT&C Week: Relationships and Reflective Practice by Trilby Smith & Kris Archie

Hi, we’re Kris Archie and Trilby Smith. Kris is the CEO of The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples, and Trilby is an independent evaluator. We met while working on an initiative called Fostering Change, and have developed a deep working relationship and friendship over the past five years. Gratitude goes to Libby Smith for the invitation to find a writing partner who has taught you something about relationship, trust, and connection in your professional life. We have learned a lot from each other about all of these things (and much more).  

Our approach to writing this blog was to host a reflective practice session for ourselves. One thing we share is a love of good questions! Trilby sent the following two questions to Kris as a way to get the ball rolling…

  • How do you understand the role of relationships (and trust and connection) in relation to learning and evaluation? 
  • As someone who works to try and shift systems of power, what role do you see for evaluation and learning in that power-shifting work? How can working in deep relationship support this power-shifting work? 

This led to a rich discussion that won’t fit into one post, so we’ll focus on sharing some lessons we’ve learned. 

Lesson Learned: Until we develop a relationship with ourselves, we cannot develop relationships with others. As an Indigenous woman, Kris experienced evaluation as extractive and shaped by worldviews that didn’t see her a whole person, but more as a statistic. It was her development of a relationship with herself and subsequently with others that helped her breakthrough these perceptions. Trilby, a white, Jewish woman, educated in traditional, western research and evaluation methods, has been on her own path to develop a relationship with herself that informs how she develops relationships with others. All of her evaluation work is done collaboratively because she understands both the limitations and contributions of her own experiences and perspectives (begin at 23:45).  

Lesson Learned: Relationships are the linchpin for deep, lasting and successful learning and evaluation work, and power-shifting work. Kris says that it is the relationships between people that uphold or dismantle a system. Relationships bring a system from mechanistic to living, which is the shift that Kris is working towards. Both of us see a need for people to be very specific about how their practices align with their words. How will your practices breathe life into a system?     

Lesson Learned: When we thought about specific learning and evaluation tools that support relationship and power-shifting work, we landed on reflective practice. We want to highlight the critical importance of slowing down (push back against urgency) and putting in place reflective practices. Somatic experiences and mental activation support integration, so reflecting in ways that activate your body, and not just your mind, are more likely to lead to a change in behaviour. Tools such as Head, Heart, Hands (or feet), workbooks that incorporate drawing, or juicy prompt questions can all support this practice.  

This week, we’re diving into issues of  Relationship, Trust, & Connection (RTC)  with reflections on the roles they play in evaluation. 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.

4 thoughts on “RT&C Week: Relationships and Reflective Practice by Trilby Smith & Kris Archie”

  1. Hi Kris and Trilby,

    I truly enjoyed reading your article, and ironically, reflecting on the lessons you have shared. I am a fifth grade teacher in Alberta, Canada. My school district has allowed for a shift in perspective the past two years, and we are seeing a lot less PD on the academics and more on connection and relationships. This has allowed me to attend and take part in many professional development opportunities that have convinced me that nothing matters more than relationships.

    I have to say, I loved that you mentioned how necessary it is to build a relationship with oneself first. In my work, I can feel very alone, even though I spend my days with 23 other people. Sometimes, when I am struggling to connect with my students or bond with my class as a whole, I need to turn within myself for courage and support. I believe another aspect of this is truly knowing yourself. Similar to when we are building and fostering a relationship with someone else, when we work on our relationship with ourselves, we get to know ourselves better. This allows us to learn how we will respond to different situations, how to work through our emotions, how to build ourselves up, and even how to allow ourselves to make mistakes and fail. It is through this part of our relationship with ourselves that we are able to learn, grow, and improve over time.

    Secondly, I appreciated your discussion on reflective practice. Your point about “pushing back against urgency” resonated with me because I have a very fast-paced life. However, it is in the moments that I take to slow down and reflect that I am able to learn the most. As a teacher, these moments are too often when I am lying in bed at night, unable to sleep because I am realizing something I forgot to do/say/make. To go back to the connection piece of this, I find that when we slow down, we are able to take the time to make connections with others. In my own life, I have 23 students (10 year-olds) who are dying to connect with me on a daily basis. I am always disappointed when I have days when I prioritize the rush, go-go-go, get it all done kind of style instead of pausing and making time for what truly matters.

    Lastly, I want to thank you for offering the question: “How will your practices breathe life into a system?” This is a question that I wish to take some time to ponder and reflect upon. I believe it is a powerful reminder to stop and think about our impact and influence.

    Thank you again for your thoughts, ideas, and opinions. You have offered me the opportunity for deep thought and reflection.

    Take care,


  2. Hi Kris & Trilby! 

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the importance of relationships and reflective practice, as I found them insightful and authentic. I am a Queens University student in my Master of Education who is new to the study of Evaluation. I found your good questions and lessons learned extremely valuable and thought provoking as I embark on my own evaluation journey.   

    I currently am teaching high school English Language Arts and was intrigued by your approach of hosting a reflective practice session for yourselves to speak. As I become more acquainted with the realms of Evaluation, adding opportunities for students to reflect on their practice by providing good questions for critical thinking and discussing to facilitate relationship building is very important. I look forward to implementing these sessions in my classroom! 

    Your first lesson – the importance of knowing our identity in order to foster relationships with others, I believe should be central to all evaluation. In order to provide genuine evaluation, one must develop an understanding of oneself and as you stated, which involves breaking down initial perceptions of one another by simply knowing ourselves.  

    Moving forward in my evaluation endeavors, I am encouraged, challenged and motivated by your question in lesson two – “How will your practices breathe life into a system?” This left me further contemplating how I will be able to effectively implement this idea to change and influence my own practice because there truly is “a need for people to be very specific about how their practices align with their words.” 

    I appreciate your response and contribution to the evaluation community!  

    All the best,  



    Très intéressant,
    Par contre, un peu plus de détails permettrait de mieux comprendre votre démarche et les leçons apprises.


    Très intéressant,
    Par contre, un peu plus détails permettrait de mieux comprendre votre approche et les leçons apprises.


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