Valuing cultural expertise – in $$ terms

While at Claremont Graduate University doing my doctoral studies, I was lucky enough to take a class with management guru Dr. Peter Drucker. Although not an expert in culturally responsive evaluation by any stretch of the imagination, he had a piece of advice that has stuck in my mind, and that IMHO needs to be better applied in the area of culturally responsive evaluation:

It’s important that you charge people enough to make sure they listen to what you have to say.

I’m not sure how much this applies around the world, but my limited knowledge strongly suggests that too many high caliber evaluators with outstanding cultural expertise are undercharging for their services.

Seriously. Think about it: How do the Big Four consulting/accounting firms have such respect in some circles? It’s not just the quality of their work or the caliber of their consultants. One way that they help shape perceptions of both of these is by pricing their consultants’ time to convey that it should be considered high value.

I mentioned in an earlier post that some of the tell-tale signs of whether a proposed evaluation was genuine about cultural responsiveness are:

  • who it chooses for its cultural experts (seasoned professionals as a priority);
  • where they are positioned in the evaluation team (high-influence roles); and
  • how they are priced (high enough to show that the skills are highly valued relative to those with other mixes of expertise).

I am reminded of an earlier quote from Vidhya Shanker in our January 2010 JMDE article (with Nan Wehipeihana and Kate McKegg):

I just want to add something in regard to the student’s use of the word “assistants” and the wage s/he listed. Nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations—and, indeed, govern­ment agencies—routinely benefit from the border-crossing/code-switching skills of people of color and indigenous people, which extend far beyond verbal language alone, without ever recognizing or remunerating those skills. Moving between two (or more) worlds requires great expertise that people from dominant groups have the privilege of never having to cultivate. It is laughable that this student thought s/he could design an evaluation for another community and then receive assistance from them in delivering it to them. But it happens all the time, right in front of my face.

I completely agree with Vidhya and want to extend that sentiment to the next level. It’s not just how others price the services of evaluators with high levels of cultural expertise in a particular context; it’s about how cultural experts price their own services to ensure that they clearly convey the value of what they do.

If you charge graduate student consulting rates, people will think that’s the quality/value of service you are offering.

If you are relatively new to the evaluation profession but come to it with valuable life and other work experience, don’t ignore that experience when it comes to how you price your services as an evaluator. The value you can bring to an evaluation team will generally be much higher than a much younger person who’s spent more time working as an evaluator. When engaging with a community, your connections, your track record, your credibility, and (yes!) any gray hair are worth *gold* to the project’s credibility, utility and validity.

Think, also, of the new up-and-coming evaluators with much less life experience. If you price yourself where they should be, less ‘life experienced’ evaluators will feel they have to price themselves even lower. The effect is that they will hardly be able to survive financially long enough to build all that experience!

I do appreciate that humility is an important value in many cultures (as it is in New Zealand culture generally, to some extent), and that many of these evaluators work in communities that cannot afford expensive evaluation. Rather than discounting rates for particular clients or charging a low rate across the board, I would advocate pricing for the true value of services, but retaining the option of throwing in some additional time pro bono on a particular project.

It is in ALL of our best interests to ensure that cultural expertise is recognized, privileged in the contexts where it is sorely needed, and valued – both financially and otherwise – in ways that will help the evaluation profession lift its game in this area.

6 comments to Valuing cultural expertise – in $$ terms

  • Tarina MacDonald

    Excellent article again Jane. I like to come here because I very much get a REALITY look at evaluation. I am not consulting in any capacity yet, that I hope is coming after this year’s study, perhaps, (if my Masters doesn’t grab me first). Yup, I have the ‘gold’ standard of experience too-grey hairs, of being a single parent, mature student at 37 am now 51+, 3 children (2 adults and 1 teen, boy-girl-boy) (2 x mokos 1 boy @ 7 and 1 girl @ 15 mths and 1 on the way). Early evaluation skills from Te Kohanga Reo Access Training Programmes of the early 80’s to -University level now at post grad level. So yup have the experience and some (so to speak) nearing 30 years i guess. To be at a place now where all of that experience aligned with formal study can be of use and influence in the area of my passion, Maori Development really excites me for the opportunities that are on the horizon, my whanau, hapu and iwi development, maori land management, maori education, maori environmental and maori natural resource management, personal transformation for maori individuals, caring and nuturing of mokopuna and rangatahi maori.
    The valuing of ourselves is a challenge for many Maori, I have learned, but that is slowly becoming lesser and lesser as more Maori become educated and interact with proactive thinkers like yourself Jane and others like you. Your article has certainly made me think and reflect on what value I would put on my composite knowledge. Its no use sitting at home with it, and doing nothing. One of the conditionings I have had from work in the public service when working on kaupapa maori within the state sector ‘is that the one who has the gold has the power’ from senior managers. The kind of rhetoric that justified their stance for many reasons-racist perhaps? discomfort from ignorance perhaps?, arrogance from hubris perhaps? whichever, it just felt like a battle to get funding for initiatives, back then. Please it’s not a blaming thing, rather its a real situation of ‘knowledge is power’, and so off to uni I went to learn (Political Science), and boy did my understanding of how things ticked over blow me over. I have seen some of those managers since I graduated 10 years ago, and they’re retired, bored, and really not that interesting to me as they once were. But being the knowledge seeker I am, PolSci wasn’t enough for me, so post grad study I had to do, and I do envy you from attending one of Peter Drucker’s classes. I agree, he’s a classic management theorist, much like my other favourite management theorist Henry Mintzberg. I like the real way in which those two thinkers explain things. I gravitate to REAListic thinkers, who aren’t necessary realists either.
    But back to my response, Jane, the cultural expertise is not easy for Maori women especially to price or cost. E.g. what is the price for the ‘whakamaramatanga o te marae atea’?, i.e the Karanga (clearing of the marae), or the Whaikorero? and the knowledge that is coming through those practices?(practices, lore, someones life,).
    I have a kuia friend who is an expert in the karanga, for example, she is called upon for special occasions at Parliament, she called me one day asking if I would write her up an invoice for a powhiri in Parliament she was doing one day. I said ‘absolutely’, how much for Nan? (I was allowed to call her Nan, short for Nanny even tho we weren’t related, that was the measure of our relationship, like a moko, and that’s special) anyway, when I asked her for her rate, she said ‘oh you name a rate’…I said ‘doubt it’, in my opinion PRICELESS….but in her opinion, being an event for the government and PARLIAMENT she got caught up in the whole rate for services thing and made her feel really whakamaa, the invoice got written up by someone else at from the Wellington tenths I think, and the rate I still don’t know to this day.
    The point of that story Jane is, at the end of the day the way one person values expertise or knowledge or information, is not necessarily the way another values it, and more importantly, if the person who doesn’t value something as much as another is also the one who holds the gold, then compromise is inevitable. This can also be a challenge in evaluation. If the budget is only $80,000 for a nationwide evaluation like evaluating the impact of a new piece of legilsaton project over 3 months when it will take 6 months (for arguments sake) to get the quality of data, analysis and interpretation, and the really pricey evaluators who could do the project in 6 months and do it very well with a high standard of quality output won’t then what? …someone ends up doing it, but not doing it very well?…I would conclude? maybe, maybe not perhaps?,….what do you think?…..i look forward to your response.
    In ending Jane, I will contemplate the value of my expertise base, you’ve provoked me to think about that, it’s not important but its worth consideration. Anyway, until the next discussion, thank you. Tarina

  • Tarina, kia ora for your very thoughtful comment!

    You are so right that this takes a rethink on both sides – those who ‘purchase’ cultural expertise and those who ‘sell’ it as part of their services. This particular post focuses on the seller (here, evaluators with cultural expertise, but this applies in many fields, I think), but there’s a strong message here for those who purchase these services as well.

    In the New Zealand context, the Crown (the government) is required to infuse the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi (for overseas readers, this was the founding document that forged a partnership between Maori and the British immigrants) into policy, practice, and protocols – and into the outcomes delivered for the country.

    To me, what the Crown chooses to pay for cultural expertise is symbolic of how seriously it is valued – and therefore, how likely it is to be genuinely infused into what truly matters (as opposed to “window dressing” by way of protocols, rituals, and other cultural artifacts).

    So, how can we influence this? Or, how can I?

    As a Pakeha (NZer of European descent) evaluator, I can:

    1. Encourage evaluators with cultural expertise to convey the value of what they know and do by charging appropriately and encouraging others to do so (as I am attempting to do in the post above);

    2. Insist that evaluators with cultural expertise charge decent rates when working with me on projects (I have done this in the past – made people revise their rates upwards when we were writing the proposal – for credibility reasons as much as anything!);

    3. Try and influence those on the client side to revise their expectations.

    I am still trying to figure out #3, but it seems to me that in contracting for government, the suggested rate comes from the supplier in the first instance, and it is the client who may try to negotiate it down.

    At one level, I’m saying if you get that push back on price, resist! Call them on it. Ask why they value this so little compared to, say, advice from one of the Big Four accounting/consulting firms … etc.

    But, as you say, many of us struggle to reconcile our natural levels of humility and reluctance to self-promote in this way. So, let me offer a few thoughts on this topic …

    First, women’s work and female-dominated occupations have been undervalued for decades, and the exact same struggle has been happening, particularly since the 1970s, with substantial successes, but still a long way to go.

    There is much to be learned there about how women collectively asserted themselves and eventually got men to chime in and agree they were right.

    Second, how about we shift the frame of thinking away from promoting oneself and the value of one’s own individual expertise? What if we thought of this as conveying the value of the collective knowledge and know-how of one’s own iwi (tribe), or one’s people (more broadly defined, e.g. in cultures who don’t use tribal affiliations)?

    If we flip the thinking around this way, then aren’t you simply insisting on respect for the knowledge and expertise accumulated by generations of ancestors, rather than respect for your own expertise as an individual? And, would that make it a little easier to push for appropriate recognition?

    Just a thought – would be interested in reactions to it.

    Third, take any and all opportunities to advocate for others on this. If a kuia (elder) gives you an opportunity to price her services, do it! Or, make a suggestion about pricing, and make it a good one.

    Nga mihi,

  • Thanks for raising this Jane. I tautoko (support) your perspective.

    I would also like to add that charging a higher rate is about more than managing perception of value. My experience has been that people who charge more (and are able to sustain their price because they genuinely add value and the ‘market’ values their services that highly) actually represent better value for money.

    When I build multi-disciplinary teams I am looking for people whose expertise and skills complement my own – and whether that’s a statistician, economist, lawyer, doctor, educator or cultural expert – the lesson is the same: the extra you pay for someone at the ‘high end’ of their profession returns a dividend in the quality of the work the team produces, and the resultant reputation and ongoing work opportunities for the whole team.

    Not only that – in many cases the cost (over the lifetime of the project, as distinct from the price per hour) is often little different from that of a ‘cheaper’ consultant because people charging their true value do a better, smarter and quicker job, require less/no supervision and (more than incidentally) are a pleasure to work with.

    If this sounds like an over-generalisation, well naturally other factors come into it (like finding collaborators with whom you have the right chemistry, shared values, trust and open communications) – but in 12 years of consulting I’m happy to stand by my observation that when it comes to cultural expertise, the more you pay, the more you get.

    As to karanga, Tarina, as they say in the Mastercard adds, some things in life are priceless… but IMHO that need not stand in the way of paying a good price for them if the circumstances allow!

    Nga mihi

  • Jane Davidson

    Kia ora Julian,

    You’re absolutely right, and this is a very persistent “false economy” (if that’s the right term) thinking pattern among clients.

    Very often, the evaluator (or other expert) who charges twice as much is NOT in fact more expensive.

    They can generally do the work 4 times as fast and to 10+ times the quality – or, actually, to a level of quality someone less skilled and experienced can never achieve no matter how many hours they put in!

    See also one of our most popular Friday Funnies ever, which touched on this point: 9 golden rules for commissioning a waste-of-money evaluation

    Rule #7. When budget is tight, opt for the contractor with the lower daily rate

    After all, you can get more days/hours out of them, right?

    Don’t be put off by pesky details, e.g. that an experienced evaluator working at twice the daily rate can get the job done 4 times as fast and to a level of quality that the less experienced person/team can never come close to no matter how much time they put in.

    For the shopaholics among us, there is an equivalent rule to go by when wondering whether to splash out on some item of clothing you truly love:

    It’s not about price; it’s about price per wear!

  • Tarina MacDonald

    He mihinui ano Jane, me koe Julian,

    Thank you both for your views you have added to my understanding of value for cultural expertise and others. I like the way you both have re-framed the value of that specific area of skill and knowledge. I’ll take that with me on my journey as an emerging evaluator and researcher.

    Will come back soon. Manaakitia e korua


  • Vidhya Shanker

    Well who knew my little comment originally posted in a Thought Leader web discussion would generate so much further discussion. I really resonate with Tarina’s comments–so much of our cultures and spiritualities are commodified and now consumed, misappropriated, co-opted by mainstream cultures. Is that progress? It does make those of us who try to practice humility and integrity and collectivity–as we’ve been taught precisely by those cultures and spiritualities–just want to avoid it all. I’m wondering if there are other ways we can challenge capitalism/ consumerism/ culture-vulturism even as we operate within it (in addition to, not instead of, valuing ourselves appropriately)?