What does Culturally Responsive Evaluation (CRE) look like? How could I become more culturally responsive in my personal life and within the practice of evaluation? These were my questions as I began my internship with BECOME while pursing a Masters in Program Evaluation through Michigan State University.
The answers were certainly revealed as I received some great tips, reflection exercises, and practices for working with community members and communicating evaluation results throughout this internship. However, my biggest takeaway was not in the practical skills one learns in any internship, but in becoming an immersed staff member of BECOME by living out its organizational goals every day. I witnessed how my colleagues strove towards the following objectives as individuals and as an organization.
Organizational Goal #1: Rebuild the Village – increase the level of connectedness and interdependence within the community and assist in facilitating a common vision and direction.
BECOME views programs through a community lens and understands that strengthening relationships between people and organizations – strengthening trust, accountability, responsiveness, and communication – means all community members work together to grow stronger.
During my internship, I worked on an annual evaluation of Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago (BGCC). One question the evaluation addressed was how do the Clubs work with schools at each of the eight sites. We researched the neighborhoods and interviewed school principals, chatting with them and others in the neighborhood about the community’s resources and strengths. Our efforts provided insights into relationships between Club managers and school principals, and those insights can lead to a stronger BGCC program. Interestingly, the funders requiring the evaluation did not ask for this qualitative data, nor did they ask anything about how Clubs operated within their own neighborhoods or in partnerships with schools. Rather, the question was one that BECOME and BGCC prioritized together. The result was comprehensive insights about how Club employees can work to strengthen Club-School relationships, and in doing so, strengthen programs for young people and communities. In viewing the evaluation through a CRE lens, the project was no longer just about data and results. Rather, our job was to conceptualize that data within the context of different neighborhoods, within each school’s culture, and within the histories of these eight unique Chicago neighborhoods.
An element of Culturally Responsive Evaluation that stands out to me in this example is the act of examining and understanding programs not just through the opinions of individuals, but also through a program’s structures of interpersonal networks and cultural institutions (McBride, 2011). Programs and communities are inherently social, and without acknowledging and exploring these relationships, program evaluation cannot help to strengthen them.
Organizational Goal #2: Enhance the community’s ability to effectively solve their local persistent social problems, such as violence, health, and poverty.
Interning at BECOME, I quickly noticed that the staff does not draw a dividing line between who they are at work and who they are at home. For example, when I interviewed for the internship, BECOME founder and CEO Dominica McBride greeted me with a hug – a big hug. I had never met her, nor had much contact with her prior to this meeting, but by the end, she had said she thought I would make a good fit, and then we spent time chatting about being moms. From the first moment I came into contact with Dominica, I felt not just welcomed into the organization, but welcomed into her life.
BECOME’s staff also generously shared their whole selves with whomever they encountered. I initially found this level of openness, well . . . terrifying. Did they expect me to do that? What if I couldn’t? Because what I saw in their authenticity and vulnerability was intimidating. I saw immense strength. I saw trust. I saw immediate belief in the kindness and good intentions and capabilities of everyone they came across . . . including myself. Staff members immediately see the potential in everyone they meet. The foundation of all of BECOME’s endeavors is rooted in developing and nurturing relationships. BECOME believes in the power of people and communities to make positive changes.
I quickly realized what gift the BECOME team had offered me – an opportunity to be viewed as who I could be at my greatest potential. And it made me want to be, well, the person they saw me as. I realized that as an evaluator, being my best self is not just about being able to perform quantitative and qualitative analyses. It means I need to be intentional about seeing the potential in everyone I meet. To do that, I need to delve into the subconscious cultural stereotypes that I have absorbed as a person living in the United States (McBride, 2015). I need to practice deep reflection and humility. My best self will be the person that is capable of seeing the best in everyone.
Symonette (2014) suggests for evaluators who want to serve others through culturally responsive evaluation they must adapt “a life commitment to calibrating and cultivating self as a diversity-grounded, equity-minded responsive instrument for inclusive excellence, social justice and success for all” (p. 3). CRE is not about best practices or tips or honing my evaluation practice – it is about continuously working on myself. My whole self – not just my evaluator self. Every day. For the rest of my life. Seeing the ability of communities to solve their own issues is only the first step, but it is a crucial step. BECOME’s staff taught me a lot about the value of cultivating one’s self to better serve others.
Organizational Goal #3: Enhance the effectiveness of institutions, policy makers, and funders to make change that is grounded in equity, community collaboration, and cultural strengths.
Throughout the evaluation project with which I assisted, BECOME’s staff would discuss all stages of the evaluation within the context of one overarching question: How can we use this evaluation to work towards social change? We talked about who to meet with, considerations for sharing results with different stakeholder groups, and how to emphasize cultural strengths while still communicating needs. We spoke of how each stakeholder group could potentially use the results to leverage the program’s positive impacts through local advocacy, fundraising efforts, or increasing awareness about their program. We talked about how the program staff typically shares results with the community, and opportunities for community collaborations within that context.
Social change is the ultimate objective of every project at BECOME. Organizational Goal #3 provides the vision towards social change by which all of BECOME’s decisions are focused. CRE provides a robust foundation for the pursuit by pushing the evaluator to continuously question her own assumptions, biases, and power and humbly reach out and work beside community members in service of what the community wants and needs. In doing so, the evaluator can more profoundly appreciate communities’ strengths and diverse stakeholder viewpoints. Ultimately, CRE helps the evaluator to deeply understand social inequities in relation to the project, and in doing so, better positions her to facilitate social change.
At the heart of my internship experience was how it felt to work with people in such an open, collaborative, supportive, and change-orientated setting. I improved my technical evaluation skills, but my biggest insights about CRE, and about the evaluator I want to be, were embedded in honest interactions with staff and the organization’s overarching atmosphere and goals.
McBride, D. F. (2011). Sociocultural theory: Providing more structure to culturally responsive evaluation. In S. Mathison (Ed.), Really new directions in evaluation: Young evaluators’ perspectives. New Directions for Evaluation, 131, 7–13.
McBride, D. F. (2015). Cultural reactivity vs cultural responsiveness: Addressing macro issues starting with micro changes in evaluation. In S. Hood, R. Hopson, H. Frierson, and K Obeidat (Eds) Continuing the Journey to Reposition Culture and Cultural Context in Evaluation Theory and Practice. (pp. 179-202). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
Symonette, H. (2014). Cultivating self in context as responsive educators: Engaging boundaries, borderlands and border crossings. Student success institute journey guide. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/hips/JourneyGuide2014_Cultivating%20Self%20in%20Context%20as%20Responsive%20Educators.pdf