Washington Evaluators Week: An Ethic of Humility: Reflections on the Greatest Lessons Learned from Pro Bono Evaluation by Giovanni Dazzo

My name is Giovanni Dazzo, former President of Washington Evaluators (WE), doctoral student at George Mason University, and evaluator at the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

In today’s post, I’ll talk about a few lessons learned from the Washington Evaluators pro bono initiative, Evaluation Without Borders (EWB).

Before I get to that, a bit of history: EWB was launched in 2017, as a way to connect conference attendees with local community-based organizations in search of program planning, measurement, and evaluation services. After 2017, we continued it as a program for our members, connecting them to pro bono clients in the DC metro area, other states, and around the world. The purpose of the program aligned with American Evaluation Association’s goals and was twofold—create opportunities where nonprofits could build their knowledge and skills in evaluation, and create opportunities for evaluators to engage in their neighborhoods and communities.

So, what did we learn from this?

Evaluation continues to be political, even when it’s free: Like many professionals, evaluators are interested in giving back, which is great. But, there’s sometimes an assumption that communities need our help so much that we must have a backlog of clients. In actuality, it takes time and commitment to find pro bono clients. Why? The fact is that many community leaders aren’t familiar with what an evaluator does. For others, evaluation has privileged certain ways of thinking, diminishing and silencing local knowledge and representing communities as damaged. While methodological rigor is important, these practices can hurt more than help, reproducing the inequities these organizations sought to eliminate.

Evaluators don’t always know best: There’s an incorrect assumption that evaluators must know more than their clients because they are the ones seeking services pro bono. The fact is that many of the community organizations we’ve worked with have prospered without the help of professional evaluators. They also have immense knowledge of the relevance and relationships behind their work but need a partner who listens and understands how to measure their outcomes of interest.

Evaluation requires patience: It’s necessary to understand that the expertise of evaluators needs to be rooted in recognizing the knowledge of others, as much as it is in their own. It requires the patience to listen to clients’ questions, as well as their anxieties about the evaluation process.

In using these lessons learned as points of departure, how can we do better to serve the greater good? We need to understand how to nurture relationships rather than simply wielding intellectual authority. Although these services are sometimes offered pro bono, we always need to respect clients’ time and acknowledge what we’re learning from them.

Rad Resources:

For this post, I drew inspiration from the work of Henderson and Esposito, who offer several suggestions and reflexive questions on employing an ethic of humility in research.

This post is part of a six-day series reflecting on lessons learned, highlighting best practices, and sharing recommendations from ‘Evaluation Without Borders’ (EWB), the Pro Bono Evaluation program of Washington Evaluators, a Washington D.C. area affiliate of the American Evaluation Association.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Washington Evaluators (WE) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from WE Affiliate 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.

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