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Traditional evaluation approaches prioritized funders’ needs rather than focusing on the needs of the communities where nonprofits’ were working. Bias was often built into these evaluations.
There is a new movement to change that: Culturally Responsive and Equitable Evaluation, CREE.
I am conducting a half day workshop titled, ‘Actionable tools to De-bias your evaluation practice’ at the 2022 American Evaluation Association conference this fall. As I plan my session, I thought it would be helpful to share some tools to de-bias evaluations using the CREE approach and the “why” behind the workshop with the ACN community so that every nonprofit and evaluator can reconsider how we measure success.
Past approaches to evaluation often perpetuated the existing historic injustice in the U.S. and other places. These evaluation models have disproportionately impacted certain populations or communities, continued disparities and sustained imbalances in power.
In response to that problem, a few evaluators created the Culturally Responsive and Equitable Evaluation (CREE) approach.
Culturally Responsive and Equitable Evaluation addresses the dynamics and practices that have historically undervalued the voices, knowledge, expertise, capacity and experience of all evaluation participants and stakeholders, particularly people of color and other marginalized peoples.
This CREE model and de-biasing your evaluation requires that evaluators to engage in a process of ongoing self-reflection and adjustment, including a willingness to question and adapt traditional evaluation methods in response to stakeholder input. In 2018, the American Evaluation Association updated their evaluation guiding principles, drawing on concepts of cultural competence and equity in evaluation.
As an evaluator, I look for ways to tell the story of a community. I strive to partner with community residents to give voice to successes and challenges through data and evidence. The CREE model ensures that I center my evaluation on the community and this model provides a deeper understanding of lived experience.
To do that, I first identify who “the community” is. For example, I was part of a team that helped design an evaluation recently for an organization that provides free grief counseling for children who lost their loved ones. In this case “the community” is the children receiving services.
The organization and I recognized we cannot truly measure success of the programming if we do not include children in the evaluation. So, our team designed a creative toolkit that uses art as a way to measure the kids' coping skills that they received in the programming.
The art is then catalogued and tagged to show which coping skills are resonating with which age group. This evaluation helps improve the program by showing the most effective skills that are resonating with that community (kids).
Nonprofits seeking to de bias their evaluations should look for an evaluator who will- intentionally identify as a practitioner of CREE Here are some other things to look for - Evaluators must infuse CREE into all evaluation methodologies and designs. It requires integrating diversity, inclusion, and equity principles into all phases of evaluation.
Participation in the evaluation by the individuals most impacted by the program we are evaluating is a hallmark of CREE. It also incorporates cultural, structural, and contextual considerations into the evaluation, including historical, social, economic, racial, ethnic, and gender-related factors.
Here are a few potential opportunities for integrating the core principles of equitable evaluation into future work:
There are nine steps in the CREE model and evaluators must ensure cultural sensitivity is integrated into each step.
These steps are outlined in image 1:Image 1: Nine steps to the CREE model
Source: Adapted from Hood, S., R. Hopson, and K. Kirkhart. “Culturally Responsive Evaluation: Theory, Practice, and Future Implications.” In Handbook of Practical Program Evaluation, edited by K.E. Newcomer, H.P. Hatry, and J.S. Wholey. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2015, pp. 281–317.
CREE is still relatively a new practice and there are efforts at the national level to mainstream these models and incorporate community voice in evaluation.
Federal organizations like HRSA, CDC and others are also calling for more community voice into evaluations. Nonprofits and even some evaluators are still learning about this model. Fortunately, there are organizations like Expanding the Bench that work towards diversifying evaluation and elevating culturally responsive and equitable evaluation.
There is a growing recognition in the field about CREE approaches and funders have expressed growing interest in designing evaluations to counter the power dynamics of traditional approaches to evaluation and to promote equity for study participants and other community members.
Given the historic injustices and power imbalances, it is time to shine light on our current practices and find ways to debias our evaluation practices.
Deepika Andavarapu, AICP, PhD is the founder/CEO of D.E.E.P Consultants. She conducts culturally responsive evaluations, as well as diversity, equity & inclusion training and strategic planning. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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