RTD TIG Week: Bias – It’s Still Here by Didi Cross

I have said it before, and it is worth saying again. Especially now. 

Every single one of us is biased. 

My name is Didi Cross, and I have been involved in science evaluation for nearly ten years, including supporting the NIH and NSF in the United States, and funders and universities in the EU, UK, and BRICS. 

Now – when so many are recognizing the systematic injustices inflicted on our Black brothers and sisters, and also the part that each one of us plays in reinforcing biases that justify and perpetuate these injustices – there is a clear need to be able to think about bias in a considered way. This is especially so for evaluation. 

Let’s start with the premise that we are all biased. Every. Single. One of us. 

Being biased means that our expectations are sometimes wrong – perhaps more often than not. This is not an untested assumption, as abundant research in many disciplines has shown.

What does this mean for evaluation? 

It means that the battle against bias is one that must be fought every day. It is not a single something that you can add to your evaluation that will yield an unbiased result each time – or even most of the time. (And please, let’s not call it ‘unbiased’.) It is something that requires constant reexamination, truly listening to as many views as you can engage – especially those that are opposing to yours. It requires vigilance and examination of your evaluation engagement, questions and methodology; your data collection, analysis, and interpretation, your presentation, write-up, publication outlet, and your follow-up. In particular, it requires those in a place of privilege to examine themselves.* As evaluators, we are unquestionably privileged to design and conduct evaluation, and ultimately share our interpretations. It is particularly for those in a place of privilege for whom the standards of conduct and intellectual engagement ought to be the highest. 

This is an uncomfortable time for many. But that discomfort is a result of questioning what you know, admitting that you have been wrong, and anticipating you’ll be wrong again – and it is absolutely necessary. 

There is much that can and should happen systematically to address the injustices of today. Those of us who are not Black will never experience and never fully comprehend what it feels like to suffer under them. But in recognizing how ingrained these systems and structures are, let us not forget that our institutions – whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – are only so strong as the individuals who uphold them. There is a place for each one of us to take action. You can start by simply questioning your own thinking.

Look within and dig into your own discomfort. You might then have a hope of taking a little less for granted and making your evaluations just a little bit less biased.

* I identify as Asian-American and recognize the relative privilege I hold as such.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating RTD TIG Week with our colleagues in the Research Technology and Development TIG. All of the blog contributions this week come from our RTD TIG members. 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.

1 thought on “RTD TIG Week: Bias – It’s Still Here by Didi Cross”

  1. March 2, 2021
    Dear Didi Cross,
    Thank you for writing and sharing this post about biases and evaluation. I am a new teacher; I teach high school English and Spanish. One of the topics that I teach about in English 11 New Media is bias and how we all have them. I talk to my students about how we learn biases and how “our expectations are sometimes wrong – perhaps more often than not” just like you mentioned. I am currently doing my masters at Queen’s University which is how I came across your article. One thing that has been on my mind a lot lately (especially after completing our readings last week) is how individuals especially in evaluation deal with their own biases for and against. One of my many takeaways from your article is to be vigilant and to acknowledge the privilege I have. Furthermore, I will share with my students what you have stated about this time of discomfort that we are living in. I lead a student social justice committee in my school, and we talk about discomfort often. You beautifully state that “discomfort is a result of questioning what you know, admitting that you have been wrong, and anticipating you’ll be wrong again – and it is absolutely necessary”. I feel empowered after reading your post. Thank you for writing it.

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