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What Are We Doing to Ensure Equity in Evaluation?

by on November 14, 2017

Guest post by Brittany Iskarpatyoti, MPH

If the theme for the American Evaluation Association conference, Evaluation 2017, is “From Learning to Action,” then one prominent sub-theme has to be “Equity in Evaluation.”

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Members of the Dakota Tribe open with a blessing at Evaluation 2017

At the conference—from the opening blessing from Dakota tribe members, to the keynote Thursday morning—“Dialogues on Race and Class in America”—to multiple concurrent sessions on representation, diversity, and equity in the evaluation field, these issues have been center stage. As Dr. Melvin Hall put it in his keynote: “We must be a profession that is strong on the things that are important for the advancement of society.”

As evaluators, we must do more than include markers of race, class, and gender in our statistical analyses. While that’s an important first step, we need to move beyond disaggregation and highlighting data about vulnerability and inequality and begin to collect and report data on the benefits of addressing those vulnerabilities and inequalities. In our session, “Want to Integrate Gender in Your Evaluation but Don’t Know Where to Start?” MEASURE Evaluation—funded by USAID—discussed this issue through a gender lens. We unpacked how gender data can answer questions more substantive than “do different gender groups have different outcomes?”

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Brittany Iskarpatyoti, MEASURE Evaluation, presents on gender equity

What I’ve personally been exploring at this conference is how social justice is considered in our evaluation practices—thinking not just about what is being measured, but about how, and by whom, and what it means for greater equity. Michael Bamberger quipped: “Many indicators are developed by clever evaluators,” but those may be different from indicators developed by participants themselves.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) is a good example. In this work, women from the communities being evaluated were asked to develop and define measures for women’s empowerment, food security, and agricultural growth that were relevant to them.

In a session by The Improve Group, presenters challenged participants to think about how research is often extractive from communities. They discussed the Research Justice Framework (I highly recommend reviewing this, here), which notes that knowledge is traditionally hierarchal, with less value placed on experimental, spiritual, or cultural knowledge. The presenters proposed capacity building as an antidote, because it allows communities to tell their own stories, in their own terms, for their own needs.

When distance is created between evaluators and those being evaluated, it doesn’t create objectivity and neutrality; it often creates distrust. Michael Quinn Patton discussed this in a session on feminist evaluation, saying: “We believe we have to hide or disguise values. But, who wants an evaluator that hasn’t made up their mind about hunger? Or violence against women? Human trafficking? We often care about the thing being evaluated. Part of how we position ourselves goes to…owning the things we value and ought to [value].”

Many great sessions and lots of discussion have involved the topic of equity and representation at Evaluation 17, but I’m still left with some questions: Are we doing enough in our own evaluation practices to consider our own biases and challenge social injustices? Do we have the skills and conviction to call out the biases of others? These are not easy questions to ask, nor are they easy to answer or address. But doing so may improve our evaluations and make ourselves better as evaluators.

Read additional blogs from Evaluation 2017 on big data and how health information systems can improve program evaluation.

From → Evaluation

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