In Community

We have had a wonderful year so far and have spoken with authentic, reflective, and thoughtful humans in the midst of this pandemic. Even through the trials and tribulations of a year and a half that have seemed defeating and draining at times, we have had the privilege and pleasure to radically imagine with you all. Last month, we began our series with the BECOME group by reflecting with Dr. Dominica McBride on the role of culture in our evaluation practice and seeing the evaluator as facilitator in helping others to “get to know the water” that is culture in our work. This month, we will be speaking with Dr. Gabriela Garcia of BECOME about the importance of community in evaluation practice.

I (Tiffany) have been thinking a lot about what engagement with community looks like in my work as well as what it ought to look like. In this tumultuous and unprecedented time, we have been in some ways abstracted and removed from the communities in which we do evaluation. I personally have had the luxury of continuing my evaluation practice this year almost completely from the confines of my own household. In addition, with the world getting smaller and the jobs we are taking as evaluators being perhaps farther from home than they have been in the past, we are evaluating programs that are often not in the communities in which we live and breathe on a daily basis.

In short, I often don’t feel a part of the communities and systemic structures that the programs I evaluate are embedded in. So, what does “engagement with community” look like for me? It looks like asking good questions, and perhaps sometimes asking questions that may seem obvious to the stakeholders that I interact with. It looks like coming into the (Zoom) room willing to embrace my ignorance with a passionate curiosity. It looks like listening to my clients as they tell their stories of barriers to access and struggles with systems that are outdated and not built to serve the communities that they are embedded in. My engagement with community means a willingness to find the appropriate stakeholders to share what their community looks like in an authentic and real way that I can empathize with and represent in my evaluation findings and processes. And bringing those humans together when possible for authentic reflection and engagement with one another.

What ought it look like? As we’ve heard on other episodes of this podcast and in the realms of equitable and culturally responsive evaluation practice, in order to do the work effectively, you have to be in community. And I often feel like I have a lack of awareness and investment in my own community. We are siloed further from each other in these times, and we are embedded here in America in a society that doesn’t appreciate knowing their neighbor; in fact, we are plagued by a sense of “rugged individualism.” And it oozes into all sectors of our lives, from education to business to non-profit work. We are constantly in competition.

“Reflection upon situationality is reflection about the very condition of existence: critical thinking by means of which people discover each other to be ‘in a situation.’ Only as this situation ceases to present itself as a dense, enveloping reality or a tormenting blind alley, and they can come to perceive it as an objective-problematic situation—only then can commitment exist. Humankind emerge from their submersion and acquire the ability to intervene in reality as it is unveiled. Intervention in reality—historical awareness itself—thus represents a step forward from emergence, and results from the conscientização of the situation. Conscientização is the deepening of the attitude of awareness characteristic of all emergence.”

– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

So, what it ought to look like is breaking down siloes, stepping outside of the idea that our work should be done individually, and truly understanding the systems that the programs we evaluate are embedded in. Learning history in-context. In addition, it is important to understand the interconnectedness of the different programs that are embedded within these communities. It is about understanding policy, and how policy and governmental structure effects the programs and people that those programs serve (as well as those people that our programs miss, or “can’t” serve). What I know is that I personally need to be more aware of those macro-structures that are often the reason for our programs’ existence in the first place, and how those structures are perpetuating inequity.

How does what we “already know” about the communities in which we perform evaluation influence the way we conduct our work?

How does what we don’t know about the communities in which we perform evaluation influence the way we do our jobs?

What does engagement in community in this time look like for you? What do you think it ought to look like?

Watch for our podcast later this month with Dr. Gabi Garcia who will reflect on these prompts with us. We would LOVE to hear your thoughts. Leave them here on the blog or tweet at us!

One thought on “In Community

  1. I’m personally struck by a recent evaluation experience where I did not fully understand the specifics of a program’s process. The director provided feedback to me about an individual stakeholder experience I had written about where the information provided in an interview did not reflect the process the program practiced.

    This led to an interesting conversation with the program director and reminded me of the frustration I have had multiple times where I am visiting an office for an appointment, and they give me paperwork to fill out. This is the first time I have seen this paperwork, and as such, some of the reasoning behind the paperwork is confusing to me, yet people who work there gloss over my confusion and just assume since they know the forms, everyone should know them the same way they do.

    There can be a major disconnect when a process becomes routine within a given setting, and newcomers are not given information because that information is so routine that it is not thought about by those who face it daily. This complicated the ability to get to know and understand a community setting in a number of ways and leads to assumptions about process and content. How do newcomers to a community become oriented to that community? Have the managers/directors put into practice methods of providing explicit and implicit information that helps to describe the contours of a community? Sometimes I think it is not just the evaluator who has blind spots for communities, but the community members themselves have blind spots for a number of reasons. How can we be better about asking questions to expose and highlight these discrepancies and work to understand why they exist?

    Liked by 1 person

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