AEA highlights: Metaphors and more in culturally responsive evaluation

So much to see, so many choices, and today I struck gold in session after session. Here are a few highlights from one of the best!

The indigenous TIG is one of the best-kept secrets at the AEA conference, and one of their offerings today was no exception. It was standing room only in one of the liveliest and most creative sessions of the conference, entitled The Evolution and Revolution of Culturally Responsive Evalation. On the creative end of things, we saw some brilliant of examples of metaphors and symbolism being used to effectively engage communities and to communicate concepts and findings. We also heard some great insights into culturally responsive evaluation – what it means in different settings, how it’s been developing over recent years, and the possibilities for the future.

Pam Frazier-Anderson, Stafford Hood, and Rodney Hopson talked about the challenges to translating evaluation concepts such as logic models into a form that African American communities could engage with. They presented the African American Culturally Responsive Evaluation System (ACESAS) and showed how they transformed a traditional boxes-and-arrows logic model into a sankofa bird, an African symbol representing the concept of reaching back into the past to fetch the strength with us into the future. This model  will be coming out in a forthcoming book on culturally responsive logic models.

Joan LaFrance gave an engaging presentation rich with imagery and metaphor, showing, with an amazing range of example,s how evaluations could be expressed as program stories within cultural metaphors. The key take-home messages here were that (1) evaluation fits within Native American cultures; it’s not just a Western or alien concept and (2) these approaches help Native American communities take ownership of evaluation for what it can do for them, not just as a requirement for the funder. There was a LOT to this presentation, and Joan mentioned that it will be uploaded onto the AEA e-library website (we’ll add a link when it is), and a book is available at

Kataraina Pipi treated the audience to a beautiful waiata (song) to open, followed by a fascinating exploration of her and our take (in Aotearoa New Zealand) on culturally responsive evaluation. She contrasted responses from M?ori and non-M?ori evaluators to such questions as, When is it acceptable for evaluators outside the culture to say they are doing culturally responsive evaluation? and How do you understand your cultural position in your evaluation work within Maori communities? Kataraina commented on what a very exciting time this time and space is to be working on the development of culturally responsive evaluation.

An extremely interesting discussion followed Kataraina’s session when someone asked whether there were any problems with objectivity when M?ori evaluators worked on evaluations within M?ori communities. Nan Wehipeihana explained that, in Aotearoa (New Zealand), credibility comes not from independence or distance, but from connectedness – for more details on this take, see also: Credibility and independence in evaluation – an alternative view

The final presentation was a creative series of two skits performed by Jennifer Greene, Jeehae Ahn, and Ayesha Boyce that highlighted how assumptions about people of different cultures and ethnicities can exist on either the client side or the evaluator side, and must be explored via ‘responsible responsiveness’ to develop contextualized understandings of diversity and advance equity in both opportunity and accomplishment.

Discussants Karen Kirkhart and Nan Wehipeihana drew out some interesting themes in the session. Karen noted that all theory is culture, athough it’s not always named. She also made the link back to Michael Scriven’s Tuesday workshop on reconceptualizing evaluation, arguing that the kinds of thinking and examples we are seeing emerge in this space are, in her view, something of a Copernican revolution. Nan pulled out a theme across the sessions about the importance of knowing who you are and where you stand, so that you also know who and where you are not. She also highlighted the value and challenges of working in deliberately cross-cultural teams where people ask the difficult questions and really challenge each other, in a collegial way.

1 comment to AEA highlights: Metaphors and more in culturally responsive evaluation

  • Kathleen Norris

    Jane, it was wonderful to meet you briefly at AEA and thank you for sharing the highlights from all of these presentations. My understanding of and appreciation for the use of metaphor and symbol in evaluation continues to expand! I am very interested in the use of metaphor and symbol in evaluation (I’ve posted a small presentation on the use of them in engaging an arts board in evaluation for the AEA public library) and the information you posted here adds to my knowledge base.