RT&C Week: Using Reflexivity to Build Relationships, Trust, & Connection in Challenging Times and Beyond by Elizabeth Taylor-Schiro

Aaniin indinawemaaganag (Hello friends/colleagues), I’m Elizabeth Taylor-Schiro/Biidaabinikwe (St. Croix Chippewa/Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe), Independent Evaluation and Research Consultant and Program Chair for AEA’s Indigenous Peoples in Evaluation TIG. 

As a doctoral student whose research focuses on identity and reflexivity in evaluation, I hadn’t anticipated the level of reflexivity that I’d need to practice in 2020. In addition to my own battles with toxic higher education environments (stories for another blog post) and personal health obstacles, we all joined the public health war that introduced us to the COVID-19 pandemic and brought in an ancient enemy of White supremacy and police violence that took its form in the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, just to name a few.

The following are some of the Lessons Learned about Relationship, Trust, & Connection in Evaluation as I attempt to navigate these critical times using reflexive practice.

Lessons Learned: 

Know your community and build relationships within whether that is with neighbors, colleagues, clients, political leaders, local businesses, or others. The staff member who called the police to report suspicion of a $20 counterfeit bill used by George Floyd happened to be a newer, younger employee who had not yet met George. The owner of Cup Foods spoke out saying that if he had been working that evening, the fatal events could have been avoided because he knew George, a “big teddy bear” who came into the store weekly. 

After reflection and dialogue within my own communities these past seven months, including evaluation colleagues, university students and faculty, and my neighbors, I realized that I had no idea how most of them aligned with or contradicted my own values. I was appalled by the reactions (or lack of reactions) of those who had formerly been my mentors and I was comforted by the new connections I was building with those who had formerly been strangers. I had supportive relationships waiting to be built and opposition waiting to be uncovered. 

Build connection by asking the hard questions. I reflected and asked myself why I had spent time asking people for tips on consultancy pay rates and an introduction to that person they knew who wrote that article I had read; but, I had not asked nearly enough “What are your thoughts about the use of evaluation to mitigate power dynamics within historically corrupt systems that privilege whiteness?”, or “What are your views about the role of evaluators in reducing inequities within _________?” 

Trust your emotions and make space to explore them. Within the profession of evaluation it can be easy to feel intimidated or unsure of yourself, but the biggest expert about you is you. Trust gut instincts, spend time with questions that sneak into your thoughts, and make space to attend to all of your feelings whether those are excitement, fear, frustration, confusion or others. We have a responsibility to continually learn about ourselves, so that we can continually learn about others in our evaluation and broader social worlds.

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.

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