At Learning for Action (LFA), we strive to be culturally responsive in our work and relationships, honoring the experiences, expertise, and humanity of every person we encounter. Without putting equity at the center of evaluation and strategy work in the social sector, we risk perpetuating injustices such as racism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, religious discrimination, and ableism, despite best intentions.
LFA has developed a series of considerations – summarized in checklist format – as one tool to help us, and our partners, incorporate an equity lens into evaluation work. The checklists:
Encourage us to be intentional and proactive about authentically representing multiple perspectives, and
Pose critical questions designed to challenge our biases and illuminate where we can be more inclusive and culturally responsive.
Purpose and Goals of the Checklists
A major impetus for us to develop the checklists was the fact that evaluations and research often do not put equity and social justice values at the center. Evaluation efforts can unwittingly reproduce the social inequities that programs are trying to address. Community members with the most at stake are often the subjects of instead of partners in evaluation work. Evaluators do not always recognize the power we have through our influence and expertise – we influence what is measured and how success is defined, interpret findings, and shape and guide conversations among decision-makers.
Applying a cultural humility lens to our evaluations – engaging in the process of ongoing self-reflection and self-critique – can help us identify and disrupt power imbalances, continuously check our own biases when conducting evaluations, and enhance and better align our efforts with those who work to resolve structural and systemic inequities.
Our goal in sharing these checklists is to lower the “barriers to entry” for organizations and individuals to make their evaluation practices more equitable and inclusive. That said, we understand that it takes more than checklists to ensure that evaluations uphold equity and inclusion, and there is no substitute for taking the time to build critical cultural humility skills at the organizational and individual levels.
Navigating the Checklists
The checklist series is organized into eight parts, which align to critical junctures in the evaluation process:
We provide an overview of the contents of each checklist here. The excerpt below from the Instrument Development & Data Collection Checklist gives a sense of how the checklists are structured to guide teams in reflecting on how they might consider putting cultural humility into practice.
Many of the considerations in the checklists also apply to work in strategy development. Versions adapted for strategic planning are forthcoming.
What We’ve Learned
Since developing the checklists, we have learned a lot about what it takes to embed these equity considerations into practice:
Start Small. When you first incorporate the checklists into your practice, it can feel overwhelming. You may wonder: Do I need to implement every item in every list? Does my evaluation need to incorporate all of the considerations in each checklist? The answer to both questions is: NO. In fact, we highly recommend starting small to help you get oriented to the checklists. This might mean focusing on one or two checklists as a first step.
Don’t Expect Perfection. Each evaluation is unique and unfolds under different contexts and sets of constraints (e.g., resources, timelines, etc.). These unique factors mean that the extent to which evaluation partners can respond to the considerations in the lists will vary. It is okay if you cannot address every consideration! The goal of these checklists is NOT to check every item on each list. The goal is to help you engage in intentional, structured reflection and conversation in order to incorporate as many principles of equity as you can. Even in cases when it may not be feasible to act on a consideration on the list, the practice of naming the challenge or constraint is an important reflection process that can help you understand potential limitations of your evaluation.
Take Your Time & Create Space for Ongoing Reflection. There is a lot packed into each consideration and each one will likely surface many more ideas for your specific context. So, it is important to remember to take your time and not try to rush through the lists for the sake of “checking off” each item. Engaging in deep, intentional discussion about each consideration will also require that you proactively create the space for ongoing reflection. Even if you have “checked off” a consideration, we recommend revisiting some considerations at multiple stages in the process so that you can incorporate new learnings, recheck assumptions, and surface new gaps in knowledge.
Stay Open to New Ideas & Recognizing Bias. As you incorporate equity principles, it is possible that you could start to feel defensive. For example, perhaps a participant shares a particularly challenging idea, or you are introduced to best practices that you had not known about in the past, or you realize that a survey you designed contained biased language. If you feel defensive, take a deep breath, recognize your own feelings, and think about why you may be feeling defensiveness. Recognize that unlearning unconscious biases is a perpetual lifelong process, and celebrate the fact that you have the opportunity to do something different now. After all, our focus should be on the feelings of anyone who has been affected by unconscious bias – not our own.
Establish an Accountability System. Ensuring that the evaluation team is using these checklists may require establishing an accountability system. If you are part of an evaluation team, you could assign a team “champion” to ensure that the team is using the checklist(s) and revisiting them as needed throughout the process. At the individual level, you might consider establishing a routine by setting aside a regular, dedicated time on your calendar or project timeline to reflect on these equity considerations.
Customize the Checklists to Fit the Context. The checklists generalize the evaluation process, and are therefore not representative of every possible evaluation scenario. As you use these checklists, you may feel the urge to adapt them to fit the context at hand. We highly encourage you to do so! Invite additional partners involved in the evaluation (especially stakeholders with less privilege) to help review/modify the checklists. The checklists are intended to be a living and evolving resource. The checklists should also be relevant and reflect the specific nuances of your and your partners’ work.
You Won’t Always Have to Use the Checklists. After some continued use, you may find that you no longer need to closely reference each checklist. This is completely natural and expected, and in fact, it is ideal! With continual use, you may find that the considerations will become a core, intuitive part of your evaluation practice.
What Do You think?
We hope that this blog post enriches your evaluation practice, and we are eager to hear any questions or reflections you may have about incorporating cultural humility and social justice considerations into your work. As you review, we invite you to think about these questions and share your reflections in the comments below:
What considerations are you most eager to incorporate into your work?
What might be different in your evaluations if you implemented checklists like these?
What else would you add to the checklists to work towards greater equity in evaluation?
Hungry for more? Our Equity Leadership Team will be sharing more resources in upcoming posts.
There are also many leaders in the field actively working to ensure that equity and evaluation go hand in hand, and we encourage you to check them out. Funders and evaluators are coming together to discuss and share resources to combat inequities (e.g., the Equitable Evaluation Project), professional evaluation associations are taking active stances on cultural competence in evaluation (e.g., the American Evaluation Association’s Statement On Cultural Competence in Evaluation), evaluators are convening to think critically about culturally responsive evaluation and assessment (e.g., Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA) annual international conference), and many are sharing resources and ideas to work towards greater equity (e.g., Racial Equity Tools, Public Policy Associates).