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RT&C Week: Who you are matters in the work by Jara Dean-Coffey

I am Jara Dean-Coffey, I am a descendant of free, stolen and enslaved people. I can trace to the 1600’s on my paternal side my people working, living on and eventually owning land from the territories of the Appomattoc (Westmoreland, Va) and from the 1800’s on my maternal side, working and living on the lands of the Minocan (Nelson Valley, VA) and the Lenape (Cayuga Valley, Ohio). I write this from the territories of the Coast Miwok also known as San Rafael, CA. Preferred pronouns she/her/hers. I founded and lead Luminare Group and the Equitable Evaluation Initiative. I am in the 3rd year of my American Evaluation Association board service. I celebrate my 25th year of marriage this year, own a home, parents married of 50+ still kicking it, together, and have a brother (who has a long term partner). I was born in Philadelphia and grew up in what is euphemistically referred to as the Main Line. I am a Sagittarius, true and true. First born. INTJ. You now have a better sense of who I am. Now what I say or do, can be better put in context, and you can think about how it might differ, compliment, or challenge how you might experience the world and the ways in which we might be in relationship with and to one another.

For us as evaluators (if that is how we define ourselves) trust is an integral element of our work. We tend to lead with our methodological beliefs and execution on method as indicators of our trustworthiness. We (and the markets in which we work) have often placed greater worth on this than the human connection, understanding and experience we have which would allow us to better understand and determine if and what methodological stance and methods might be best, and perhaps, even more importantly how best and with whom best to engage in our efforts. We have become less connected to the humans and thus the humanity of our work. It has made us less relevant, useful and effective (however you wish to define that). 

The word "invitation" in Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish

So this post is really an invitation to think about not only your values (what drives you to do and be in this work) but who are you. What about your life and that of your people do you bring to this work? What should you bring to this work? How would it deepen your understanding of and strengthen your relationships with your client partners, community, whomever it is that you interact with as part of your work? What work might you have to do to get to that place? Being an evaluator is a position of power and responsibility not only to your client partners/ community but to yourself. Bring it all. Find the joy.

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: Who you are matters in the work by Jara Dean-Coffey”

  1. Hello Jara,
    I am Jan Prchal. I am Canadian born, but Czech by heritage. Both sides of my family have a long heritage in the area that is now the Czech Republic. Neither of my parents is religious, though my mother’s family was Protestant and my father’s family was Catholic. I have enjoyed many privileges in my life, but I consider the greatest one that both my parents were able to spend a lot of time with me growing up, being self-employed and frugal. I am also grateful to have one biological brother and two half-sisters. I am not married. I prefer masculine pronouns. I have been fortunate to have completed two bachelor’s degrees and begun my career teaching Social Studies and Business Education at the Secondary level. I am currently a graduate student in the Queen’s Professional Master of Education. It is a course in that program which brought me here.
    Thank you for sharing such a thoughtfully written and passionate invitation for evaluators to include more of themselves and their values in their work. In reading your post, and the comments on it, I have been prompted to reflect more deeply about what evaluators bring, consciously or not, to each evaluation. Until now, I had not considered why I consider evaluation to be important. You discuss trust in your post as being essential to a successful evaluation. I agree. I have always liked the idea of veritas vincit (truth prevails). It is the Czech national motto and I have used it as a reminder to myself to strive to be as honest as I can be, and to focus on developing trust between myself and the world around me, particularly my students, my classmates, and my colleagues.
    Furthermore, I would agree with Arlene that your post has specifically prompted me to reconsider the quest to reduce bias as a) naïve, since bias is so often deeply subconscious b) bias, as a reflection of our identity, is more useful if it is stated up front and reflected upon openly, rather than something that is suppressed or forced to charge through power of will.
    Thank you again.

  2. Hello Jara,
    I am Arlene Lee. I am a Canadian born Chinese woman, raised by a staunch Catholic Pole. I’ve been with my husband since I was 15 and am raising 3 girls, two biological mixed race and one adopted black woman for the past 4 years. I’ve been a passionate high school English teacher since 2002, an IB coordinator for about 3 years, a martial artist, and now a graduate student at Queens University taking a course about program evaluation.
    Your blog intro is like a fight song that inspires people to own their stories and drew me in as I wanted to see how it all connects to evaluation, in particular, “trust” in evaluation. This kind of personalization/context can, as you say, make stakeholders “think about how it might differ, compliment or challenge how [they] might experience the world and the ways in which we might be in relationship with and to one another.” It can establish trust in an almost immediate way and lower people’s defences. It can connect on higher levels that understand common visions. However, in a politically divided climate, is there also concern that it could also make people put up walls, develop resistance biases and potentially skew evaluation reception? Your post stimulates thoughts about how we can use personalization to develop trust without unknowingly alienating people, which can sometimes be done with a very seemingly innocuous detail.

    In my, albeit very limited, experience with evaluation I’ve been thinking about how to remove bias. This post makes me consider a different approach. Perhaps we cannot remove bias at all. We all bring our history and ideologies into everything we do. I certainly don’t leave these behind when I teach. Embracing them enriches the experience for both my students and me. Integrating our own stories, motivations and backgrounds into our methodological approaches actually seems to open up opportunities to breathe life and value into what could be theoretical and potentially dry.

    Thank you for your post and reminder that human connection is not a disadvantage, even if there are possible biases.

  3. Hi Jara,
    I just wanted to thank you for your excellent and thought-provoking article. I am a student new to the study of evaluation. As I have been wading through some of the more theoretical aspects of evaluation in my introduction to the field, I can see how it might be easy to get caught up in the methods and execution of evaluations. Your invitation to think about personal values and what we bring into our work has been a great reminder that being an evaluator means more than just collecting data and measuring indicators. We are building trust and relationships with clients, colleagues, and communities. We are interacting and working with others to reach a common goal and human connection in this process is so important. Your final sentence introduced an idea that I had not considered in my study of evaluation so far: that we can find joy within the process and experience of evaluation.

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and for encouraging me to think about my values and who I am and to bring all of that with me to find joy in my explorations of evaluation.

  4. Jara, I just had to say how much I loved this post!
    It virtually qualifies you for honorary citizenship of Aotearoa New Zealand, too; is totally the way people introduce themselves back home. 🙂
    Kia ora!

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