Three powerful and authentic questions about evaluation and cultural context

In reading the comments in response to my earlier post, The Importance of Values for Substantiating Evaluative Conclusions , three questions strike me as powerful and authentic in addressing evaluation theory and practice within the context of culture

  1. What ‘really’ constitutes culturally competent evaluative theory and practice?
  2. Why the ‘big silence’ in discussing the cultural and political nature of commissioned evaluations?
  3. How do we best address the issue of culturally competent evaluation?

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K. Fisher brings a worthy comment by pointing out the “need to reflect and learn from what we do.” To quote an African proverb,

When the lioness runs and looks back it’s not that she is afraid, rather she is trying to see the distance she has covered”.

As evaluators we are notoriously known for encouraging programs and policies to reflect on lessons learnt, practice and apply; a prescription that we should also learn to swallow. Malunga et al (2001), in their work on Organizational Capacity Building posed this question, “How well does the organization balance action and learning?”

What ‘really’ constitutes culturally competent evaluative theory and practice?

There has been some excellent work done in clarifying this already, and I particularly resonate with Nan Wehipeihana’s posts on this topic, Donna Mertens’ comments about the transformative approach, and the recently developed AEA draft statement on cultural competence in evaluation.

Why the ‘big silence’ in discussing the cultural and political nature of commissioned evaluations?

David Earle is raising one huge issue with so many implications to the field of evaluation. This point is so relevant to the evaluation of HIV/AIDS prevention in Sub- Saharan Africa. Given the diverse cultural norms and gender dynamics which affect men and women differently, one would assume openness in the ‘what, why and how’ of evaluation theory and methodology in the region. My next post will touch on the issue of evaluator independence, and the implications of omitting contextual issues that may further suppress the voices of those who are already marginalized in society.

How do we best address the issue of culturally competent evaluation?

Why not use a different paradigm, a different lens which not only addresses the cultural and political issues, but also empowers everyone involved in authentic manner. Thanks Donna Mertens for bringing up the transformative paradigm, as an over-arching philosophical framework which provides a better lens to address the underlying cultural and political issues in evaluation. I would like to quote you from your paper, Transformative Paradigm Mixed Methods and Social Justice, where you stated;

“The recognition that realities are constructed and shaped by social, political, cultural, economic, and racial/ethnic values indicates that power and privilege are important determinants of which reality will be privileged in a research context.”

And likewise the African Proverb says;

Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter

The “band aid solutions” to address cultural issues in evaluation may serve and benefit only the few; those who commission evaluations, the privileged, and to some extent the evaluators. Those impacted by the program will continue to remain as ‘subjects to be evaluated’. Hence, the question, who knows the depth of their story, and whose perceptions are used in the narrations?

What a nice segue to my next post “Where and Why Western lenses miss the mark in Africa: The case of HIV/AIDS prevention evaluations”

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