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Scribing: Vidhya Shanker on Discussions Regarding the AEA Cultural Competence Statement

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?

Next steps

  • 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.

4 thoughts on “Scribing: Vidhya Shanker on Discussions Regarding the AEA Cultural Competence Statement”

  1. Vanessa p. Jackson

    Thank you for the timely information. I have done a great deal of research cross culturally, and have had to at times not be able to use some of the data because of assumptions made. I have learned to be more understanding to differences between cultures. We are in a global world technologically but there remains many difference.

  2. By way of clarification (because comments were addressed to “you”): though I have eagerly followed and support the work of the Task Force on Cultural Competence in Evaluation, I was not part of it or an integral part of its process, except as a participant in the above mentioned AEA session, which invited participation from myself as just one of several other AEA members/ conference attendees.

  3. And by the way, when I use the phrase “sweeping statements” in this context it is in a positive sense, because these statements extend one’s understanding beyond the realm of hypotheses and evidence, very much like the end of Plato’s analogy of the divided line.


  4. Thank you very much for clarifying AEA’s statement on cultural competence in evaluation. I just submitted my vote for it. While reading through the language, I could not help but imagine the sum of all culminating teaming experiences that you captured in the form of this very important message to our members.

    Nevertheless, it is one thing to prepare sweeping statements on the nature of social complexity for informational purposes, but it is entirely another to intuit the significance of these ideas on one’s own initiative, as you have demonstrated through this impressive task force effort.

    Therefore, what I would encourage your team to do as part of the next phase is to document the process that you used to develop this statement, then teach others (e.g., TIG leaders?) how to replicate it with fidelity in the context of their work, such as in the form of a professional development workshop series.

    Ideally, what I’d like to see as an offshoot of your essential work is an operationalization of AEA’s six value statements in the form of a conceptual tool (e.g., rubric) that evaluators could use to hone their reflective practice in the areas of “excellence in evaluation practice, utilization of evaluation findings, and inclusion and diversity in the evaluation community.” However, in order to take that work seriously, we would need to clarify the fundamental theory(ies) of change that drive our professional practice. If you could help us with that as well, I’d be very appreciative. 🙂


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