WMU Week: Tammi Phillippe on Personal Lenses and Bias

Hello from beautiful Kalamazoo, Michigan. My name is Tammi Phillippe. I am a student in my first official evaluation course. Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo is home to the Evaluation Café where Dr. Rodney Hopson, AEA President Elect, recently gave a talk titled, Evaluation and the Public Good: Toward Whose Good, Whose Benefit and to What End?

As a student of evaluation, I find myself wondering how I can – in practice – leave behind personal preferences, values, education, and possible biases and open myself to experiencing and learning about the evaluand with fresh eyes. I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Hopson the following question: “How do you approach evaluation or even education with your personal lens fixed in front of you and still be able to provide bias-free service?”

Lessons Learned – Dr. Hopson recounted a story of taking freshman education students into an urban area in East Pittsburgh and allowing those students to confront their own prejudices as a way to make space for new ideas and cultural sensitivity. The students had a number of experiences outside of their comfort zone and this helped them find a wider zone from which they could develop into better, more culturally sensitive teachers. He asserted that we cannot step away from our own preferences, biases, backgrounds and knowledge; rather, these are tools in our toolboxes that we bring to the work we do. Our responsibility is to “out” our position deliberately and be honest with our clients, our values, and ourselves.

Hot Tip – Know yourself, know your values. Within our role as evaluators, the task is to be true to our special interests and look at our multiple missions. Our responsibility within the context of our work is to move between “value-interested” and “value-committed” positions with full disclosure. Dr. Hopson clearly sees evaluation as an opportunity to “challenge, disrupt, and make the social order more democratic.” He does not believe that evaluation can be value-neutral; however, we can strive for impartiality.

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.

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