Becoming Culturally Responsive

As you may know, we do our best to build out our monthly topics based on our guest discussions each month. Last month, we were honored to have Dr. Aisha Rios join us. She shared her experiences as a practitioner and spoke about abolition within evaluation. This was an excellent foundation for the next three months as we’ll be joined by the team from BECOME to sink ourselves into culturally responsive evaluation –and more importantly ask ourselves —  what does it mean to be a culturally responsive evaluator in this time of sociopolitical upheaval and collective trauma? This month, the BECOME team will generously provide us with an overview of how they approach the practice and an introduction into culture. 

Reflecting on this month’s focus brought me to this broad reflection question: What does culture mean to you within the context of your work?

To me (Deven), culture is another layer within a system that contributes to how I make sense of the work around me and really, how I engage with it. But as I think of it outside of myself, culture is really my call for being self-aware. We must understand that through cultural norms and traditions, comes different ways of being and knowing — many of which I might not be able to understand but I am still able to appreciate and respect. Culture, as I think of it, supersedes our concepts of statistical significance and even conversations about reliability and validity. It’s the contextual factor that pushes us to think outside of our boxes and be more human. Though we often like to think of it as a choice, culture is influencing our work and really, every area of our lives whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. By becoming more aware of it, we can intentionally engage with it. 

I hope you’ll reflect with us on this question and then join us for the podcast later in the month where we will talk with Dr. Dominica McBride, founder and CEO of BECOME, about culture and practice. We would LOVE to hear your thoughts. Leave them here on the blog or tweet at us!

2 thoughts on “Becoming Culturally Responsive

  1. I think of culture in terms of layers. Intersectional oppression theory analysis takes time to consider the layers of identity and positionality for individuals and groups, and I think it offers opportunities to consider several dynamics of what “culture” might entail.

    Food/beverage, art/music/literature, expressions of humanity (is it okay to burp in public?), hygiene/physical presence, verbal/nonverbal communication dynamics (eye contact or not, loud/quiet, close/far physical distance when talking, word choice & style), physical space dynamics (decor, statements made by environmental factors), relationship configurations (who counts as family, intimacy, physical touch or not), epistemologies of value/meaning, historical/regional components, independence/collectivism, myths/legends/superstitions (like skipping the number four in Japanese or using a different word), gender roles, authority roles/figures, language dynamics (accent, tone, word choice), household chores and organization practices, thinking styles and problem-solving methods, perceptions of and value for technology. All these things and more could be analyzed as cultural dynamics in any given setting/context.

    I think the challenges I have with CRE are that it is often narrowed to investigating broader cultural components that end up easily missing the layering of humanity within given stakeholder groups. This is entirely dependent on the evaluator, so CRE allows opportunities to reflect and investigate these layers, but when culture is merely attached to race or socioeconomic class and ignores the intricate and fluid nature of culture, it ends up catering to social norms and stereotypes rather than inviting a more fluid series of responses.

    For me, I like the idea of spending more time investigating privilege within culture – what are the status quos and norms, and how do they operate within a given programmatic context. When these are investigated and understood, such information can be used to determine how other dynamics of culture might be invisible or marginalized within a given setting.


  2. Dr. Dominica McBride shared in our podcast this month the idea that culture is how we relate to one another. I love that framing. It is important to think about culture from a broad but also contextual perspective. The idea of culture points to so many different pieces of our identities, but in the end it is about how our similarities and differences are celebrated and how they manifest themselves in society.

    Culture is a beautiful thing, and for evaluators it requires an openness and humble inquiry (Schein, 2013). Just like you said, Deven, “through cultural norms and traditions, comes different ways of being and knowing — many of which I might not be able to understand but I am still able to appreciate and respect.”

    In particular, I think appropriate attention to culture in evaluation requires what Yanow (2009) calls “Passionate Humility.” She notes, “Perhaps the practice of passionate humility does, in the end, come down to moral attitudes—to a valuing of otherness that sees difference not so much as a threat to one’s customary way of being, but as potentially enlarging it.”

    We have learned time and again of the importance of multiple perspectives for progress, learning, and innovation. In order to be culturally responsive, we have to understand that there are other perspectives aside from our own and that those perspectives are what make living exciting. I have recently begun reading about multipartiality in facilitating dialogue. Thinking about the notion of the “dominant narrative” and how that interacts with how we view culture and difference is something that we as a profession could do more with. Check out this video:


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