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The Power of Stories in Evaluation by Quisha Brown

Hello, AEA365 community! Liz DiLuzio here, Lead Curator of the blog. This week is Individuals Week, which means we take a break from our themed weeks and spotlight the Hot Tips, Cool Tricks, Rad Resources and Lessons Learned from any evaluator interested in sharing. Would you like to contribute to future individuals weeks? Email me at AEA365@eval.org with an idea or a draft and we will make it happen.

Hi, I’m Quisha Brown, co-founder of Humanistic Care, LLC, an organization offering culturally responsive solutions to tough challenges faced by nonprofits serving marginalized people. I’m also the creator of the Progressive Outcomes Scale Logic Model (POSLM) which provides a culturally responsive approach to logic modeling. This blog post discusses AEA’s 2023 Conference Theme, “The Power of Story ” and my hopes for what information this conference will provide.

The Power of Story is this year’s AEA theme. I, like many of my colleagues, am very eager to see what this year’s conference sessions will offer as it relates to the use of stories in evaluation. Some may overcomplicate what it truly means to incorporate stories into evaluation. However,  I have a very literal interpretation of the theme. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, stories are a) an account of incidents or events and b) a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question.

For every social impact initiative there is a story or a history of how the problem came to be. As an example of a story, I’ll use health. When we consider racial disparities in health, we find that people of color experience higher rates of illness and death across a wide range of health conditions. Therefore evaluation of programs designed to improve these outcomes should intentionally take into consideration the story behind how and why racial health disparities have grown. The story is a critical component of evaluation because it shows us how and why the issue exists. The evaluation, therefore, should help to reveal what interventions work best to address the very specific and targeted issues from the problem’s historical past.

Considering this same example, let’s dive further into this story in an effort to develop more specific and targeted historical problems that have contributed to increasing racial health disparities.

It’s well known that soul food has a strong link to African American culture. During the 1960s, many African American families ate what today is called “soul food.” Foods such as barbeque ribs, pickled pigs’ feet, macaroni and cheese and fried chicken. These recipes have been passed down from generation to generation since slavery. What is important to note here is that these foods are deeply rooted in African American culture, not African culture. Ancestral Africans (before slavery in America) participated in agriculture and sustained on a diet that focused on vegetables, beans, tubers, grains, roots, and greens. Greens were a staple in the African diet. The origin story of soul food is somewhat complicated. You see, on slave plantations, these foods were scraps that White families refused to eat. Therefore, Black slaves had no choice but to make do with “food” like chitlins (pig intestines), ham hocks and oxtail. Unfortunately today, many families are unaware of the harm which soul food as well as an overconsumption of fast foods continue to cause. It is no secret that the unhealthy diet of African American culture has become a nearly insurmountable burden on health outcomes.

Now imagine the evaluation of a preventive health program initiative with a strong focus on providing classes to reinvent soul food through the creation of heart-healthy soul food recipes for high risk patients. The evaluation could place a stronger focus towards the actual impact that this program had on the participants’ health improvements, rather than simply capturing data proving that they had access to,  participated in and completed the program. Even better, now…there is a full story to incorporate into the evaluation.

Simply knowing the story alone is not enough to impact past injustices. It’s what we do with the information learned from the stories that truly matters and this is where evaluation seems to continually fall short. Personally, I’m hoping that this year’s AEA conference will help practitioners develop practical strategies to help them use information learned from stories to make intentional connections to the initiatives they evaluate. We have spent too long simply talking about the stories, root causes, problems and issues in racial disparities, now it’s time to find ways to use what we know to find and uplift interventions that work.

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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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