This is Vidhya Shanker, a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota. I served as an Evaluation 2010 scribe for Think Tank Session 242, Cultural Competency in Evaluation: Discussion of the American Evaluation Association’s Public Statement on the Importance of Cultural Competence in Evaluation. Discussion was organized into small groups, each of which focused on the statement in relation to policy, practice, teaching, or theory.
Lessons Learned: The following are from the teaching group:
- As a mandate, the statement provides educators legitimacy in moving considerations of cultural competency from the margins to the center.
- It helps learners understand that cultural competence is not a destination or state of being. They often want to know what the steps are to get “there”. Once you attempt to provide a list, they say, “Well, I already… [engage stakeholders, etc.], anyway.” Cultural competence is a reflective stance that involves learning, unlearning, and relearning. Unlike many artificially one-dimensional and linear models, it is recursive and multidirectional.
- It allows us to differentiate further between research and evaluation¾both of which are embedded in and reflect the values and culture of academia. Evaluation, however, has the added imperatives of involving stakeholders and being used by identified decision-makers, neither of which are required of research.
- ”Culture” is difficult to pinpoint—we tend to think of it only in terms of ethno-racial markers. Thanks to civil rights gains, issues of culture are not always as obvious to today’s students. Students in some contexts, e.g., HBCUs, may be familiar with the notion of culture in relation to race/ ethnicity and understand it in terms of a shared set of values/ ways of living, but be less familiar with deaf cultures or youth cultures. Within ethno-racial groups are intra-cultural differences, stereotypes, and specific language—for example, about “gangs”.
- Understanding culture requires a global as well as a local frame. Hawai’ian students, for example, may figure that mainland evaluators will not understand them anyway, fear they will judge them, or wonder what they will do with the information they get from them.
- Encouraging students to discuss their own biases¾even to recognize that they have them¾is difficult.
- Culture is lived, not learned, and cultural competence is distinct from cultural fluency. There is no clear and easy rubric or recipe for achieving cultural competence, which is why AEA is still dealing with this. It is a moving target. If we have not resolved it ourselves, how do we teach it?
- Evaluation educators and students must go outside the classroom, because the classroom reflects a certain culture in itself.
- To prepare, however, we need appropriate case studies and curricula.
Note: The Cultural Competence in Evaluation Statement is currently up for member vote as an official statement on behalf of AEA. If you are an AEA member, please be sure to cast your vote on or before Thursday, April 21, at http://www.eval.org/ballot/ccstatementvote.asp (you will be asked to login).
At AEA’s 2010 Annual Conference, session scribes took notes at over 30 sessions and we’ll be sharing their work throughout the winter on aea365. 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.