I’m (Libby) sitting down to write this post on the eve of #Eval21 – or rather Eval Reimagined – a Virtual Experience. There’s been a lot of reimagining these past 20 months. This year’s AEA conference theme asks us to Meet The Moment — a recognition of both our 35 years as an association and the fact that we are in a liminal space where we can never quite go back to how things were. I’ve been thinking about it all this way – who have we been? who are we now? and who do we want to be? — as a field, as an association, and as individual evaluators.
Over the past two months on the podcast we’ve been asking members of the Become team how they have been meeting the moment, specifically, what does it mean to be a culturally responsive evaluator in this time of sociopolitical upheaval and collective trauma? Dr. Dominica McBride talked with us about how culture shows up in our work and Dr. Gabriela Garcia talked with us about engaging communities through our work. To wrap up our three part series on this question, we will be talking with Lisa Sargent about the role of activism in our work.
It’s been a frequent refrain on this blog and on the podcast — evaluators are likely to frown on activism and advocacy. We’re supposed to objective, right? We’ve thrown that notion out long ago is this space, but it never escapes our awareness that it is still a common belief in the field.
I believe that our collective attachment to objectivity when it comes to activism is really a cover for our fear. We hide behind objectivity to stay out of conversations about racial justice and other justice issues. In my experience, most evaluators don’t have the racial literacy — political and historical context included — to engage in conversations about equity and racial justice. We have to change that if we want to stay relevant as a field.
I believe that disrupting the patterns of white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy, start with disrupting those patterns within. My activism starts with me. The more I have looked at how I have embodied oppressive behaviors, the more confident I feel in speaking out against injustice and orienting my life towards liberation.
No matter how tightly we continue to grasp at objectivity, evaluation is never neutral –if we aren’t actively working towards justice than we are working towards maintaining the status quo. Recognizing that fact might just be your first step towards embracing activism in your work. As Emergent Strategy teaches us “small is all” – what small step can you take towards justice?