WMU Week: Lori Wingate on Questions of Culture and Power in Evaluation and the OK-ness of Not Getting to “The Answer”

My name is Lori Wingate, and I work at The Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University. I’ve been involved in a number of discussions around the issues of culture, color, and gender in evaluation. I value the premise from which these conversations start. Being hyper-pragmatic, I tend to get frustrated with where they end—that, is, without clear-cut answers about how to translate our heightened awareness into our practice as evaluators.

Professor Rodney Hopson spent three days at WMU, engaging the staff, students, faculty, and community members in conversations about culture and power in evaluation. His visit had a transformative effect on me. No, I did not come away with a credential in cultural competence (and you should be highly suspect of anyone who claims “cultural competence” without reference to a specific context). But I learned a valuable lesson that permeates my professional life.

Lesson Learned: It’s OK to not get to “the answer” on the big questions concerning the role of culture and power (or color, gender, etc.). There is value in the dialogue itself, and collectively such conversations move us forward as individual evaluators and as a discipline. In a profession focused on “measurable change,” it is easy to devalue incremental changes that happen in a less-than-systematic fashion. But small or “unmeasurable” experiences eventually lead to a better-informed evaluation practice; the accretion of tacit knowledge moves us toward wisdom. I still don’t know precisely what to do to ensure cultural competence in my work, but I have a better understanding of where my blind spots are.

Professor Hopson didn’t come to WMU with all the answers. Rather, he challenged us with questions. Consider the title of his lecture, “Evaluation & Public Good: Toward Whose Good, Whose Benefit, and What End?” These are questions we should continually ask ourselves as evaluators regarding our individual practice and our profession’s role within society. They hark back to Michael Scriven’s original two-fold definition of metaevaluation as the (1) “assessment of the role of evaluation” and (2) “evaluation of specific evaluative performances.” Although we tend to focus on the latter definition, it would serve as well to occasionally revisit the former and reflect on questions such as those posed by Professor Hopson—even if we end up with more questions than answers.

Rad Resource: Michael Scriven’s often-referenced, rarely read original article on metaevaluation. It’s a good reminder that metaevaluation isn’t just about evaluating individuals evaluations, but also the role of evaluation in society: Scriven, M. (1969). An introduction to meta-evaluation. Educational Products Report, 2, 36-38. (It’s not online, but I’d be happy to email a PDF upon request.)

Rad Resource: Video of Rodney Hopson’s WMU lecture, “Evaluation & Public Good,” accessible from http://www.wmich.edu/evalctr/2011/09/evaluation-and-the-public-good/

All this week, we’re highlighting posts from colleagues at Western Michigan University as they reflect on a recent visit from incoming AEA President Rodney Hopson. 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. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “WMU Week: Lori Wingate on Questions of Culture and Power in Evaluation and the OK-ness of Not Getting to “The Answer””

  1. I have received and responded to several requests for Scriven’s “An Introduction to Meta-Evaluation” article.

    Here is another article I like for perspective on the “meta” part of metaevaluation:

    Thomas, R. M. (1984). Mapping meta-territory. Educational Researcher, 13, 161-18.

    If you are affiliated with a university, you probably have an institutional subscription to the journal–if so, this link should work:



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