YEE Week: Power, the Status Quo, and the Individual by J.R. Moller and Taruna Gupta

Greetings! We are J.R. Moller and Taruna Gupta. J.R. is a PhD candidate at UNC Greensboro in Educational Research Methodology where she centers her evaluation practice on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Taruna is a freelance researcher and evaluator from Kenya.

Power has many associations, both negative and positive. Regardless of its form, power is pervasive throughout society; from our local community-based organizations to the power manifestations between the Global North and the Global South. The less powerful generally have a significant interest in social change, while the interests of the more powerful lie in the status quo. The reason being the existing systems have provided them the power and in general account for the interests of the more powerful over the less powerful. As evaluators, our work can be leveraged to reveal inequities, typically the manifestation of the status quo, and to challenge them. We can challenge the status quo when it does not effectively serve the greater good.

Lesson Learned:

It is easier for all to allow the status quo to remain and to justify its existence. Therefore, it is common to hear phrases like ‘the system is not perfect but let us make the best of it’. However, bringing attention to the status quo and the positives from changing it are often received better than expected. The more of us who shine a light on the problematic nature of the status quo, the more people will be moved to help change it by standing alongside us. We must foster unity in our thinking and actions because none of us should be against anyone as we are all in it together. We must be the One. As evaluators speaking truth to power, means speaking up for the less powerful. Our obedience and/or unwillingness to speak truth to power, makes us a contributors to status quo, because we inadvertently fuel it by not shining a light on the problems. Giving voice to the experiences of power inequity is critical in facilitating power sharing. Educate your clients and collaborators about power. Don’t shy away. It just takes One.

With the above lessons in mind, picture standing in a New York City subway station waiting for the train. Three teenagers start fighting another teen. The platform is crowded and the fight is wild. No one is stopping them because inaction is the status quo. So, you step in front of the targeted teen as he falls to the ground and block the others. With your hands ready to block blows, you tell them to stop, the police are probably coming, and that this isn’t worth being arrested or falling onto the train tracks and potentially dying over. You tell them to stop, breathe, and let it go. You’re challenging their power and violence. They stop, look at the teen on the ground bleeding, back at you…take a deep breath, nod, and walk off. You start tending to the young man on the ground. In short order, others on the platform who witnessed the fight pull out napkins, wipes, etc. to help the young man. Someone asks if he wants a medic, but he shakes his head no. Another says they have called for one anyway because he is bleeding. He begins to cry. It’s ok, because it took One, at first to get all of us here now.

Grab hold of the moment’s momentum and be the One. Create ripples and waves so that together, we can change the tide.

 Rad Resources:

  1. Haugaard, M (2020), The Four Dimensions of Power, The Manchester Press
  2. Powercube: www.powercube.net
  3. Reid, A. M., Boyce, A. S., Adetogun, A., Moller, J. R., & Avent, C. (2020). If Not Us, Then Who? Evaluators of Color and Social Change. New Directions for Evaluation, 2020(166), 23–36. https://doi.org/10.1002/ev.20407

The American Evaluation Association is hosting the Young and Emerging Evaluators (YEE) Week. The contributions all week come from YEE 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. 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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