Understanding values in evaluation – Part I by Alison Miranda

Alison Miranda
Alison Miranda

I’m Alison Miranda, Senior Learning Officer with the global transparency and accountable governance funder collaborative Transparency and Accountability Initiative. Conversations among global experts at recent convenings of the European Evaluation Society (EES) and the Evidence in Governance and Politics (EGAP) researcher-practitioner network grappled with placing values in evaluative practice.

Rad Resources: For those who may balk at the combination of values and evaluation, I encourage you to read remarks from Ruth Levine, director of Global Development and Population at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Transparency and Accountability Initiative member, on the moral case for evidence in policymaking and in impact evaluation. She challenged her audiences to examine and strengthen the application of “truth, distributive justice, and human progress” in daily evaluative practices.

Here is what I heard and learned in my recent travels that might help us understand this challenge in our own work.

How to think about equity in the funding and production of evaluation and evidence?

Current and past leaders from the African Evaluation Association, the Community of Evaluators of South Asia, and the Latin American and Caribbean Monitoring, Evaluation, and Systematization Network put values front and center in the title of their session, “There is no resilience without equity: When will our profession finally act to reverse asymmetries in global evaluation?”

Among other points raised, the speakers noted that the political economy of commissioning and conducting evaluations does not facilitate equity. Evaluation funding sources, teams, and even designs are mostly driven by global north frameworks and education systems. This conversation expanded the framing of “equity” from assuring opportunity for evaluators of the global south to also facilitating knowledge exchange from and within the global south.

Whose truth matters in an evaluation?

Rad Resources: At EGAP, we discussed ethics in evaluation of governance and politics interventions, thinking beyond institutional review board requirements and the group’s current statement of research principles. EGAP is not alone in this effort with the American Evaluation Associate having updated its guiding principles for evaluators in 2018.

Among other points, the EGAP conversation touched on both honoring the agency and dignity of the person or group being studied by the evaluation as well as the responsibility of the evaluator to report accurate truths. As Ruth notes, evidence generated can often reveal “truths [that] are specific, not universal.” While this certainly applies to those groups being studied, we can also consider the truths that those conducting and even commissioning the work bring to an evaluation.

Part II of this blog offers hot tips and more rad resources around putting values into ethical evaluative practice.

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.

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