The 2018 American Evaluation Association conference is two weeks away! This year’s theme is “Speaking Truth to Power.” But, what does that really mean to evaluators? As our team members are getting ready for their presentations, we asked them to reflect on the conference theme and answer: “How do you use evaluation for speaking truth to power?”
Joelle Greene: One of the most important ways that evaluation speaks truth to power is in the way we represent and disseminate our findings. It is so important that all stakeholders, regardless of education or formal training, have access to what we learn from evaluation so they can be part of learning and decision-making. This goes beyond the availability of findings. It includes representing data in ways that allow all stakeholders to make meaning of and think critically about findings. At the end of the day, equitable access to the knowledge we cull from evaluation supports community empowerment.
Matthew Kronz: There are constructs where the people in power are able to determine what counts as knowledge (e.g. what data counts and how it is interpreted). Evaluators hold a unique position – especially in our position as external evaluators – because we have the opportunity to ensure these constructs incorporate diverse voices and experiences. We do that by leveraging our position as knowledge brokers to bring in new, diverse voices through community participation and client and stakeholder engagement, etc. We can also redefine what counts as knowledge in a way that emphasizes the diversity of opinions and voices needed to yield valid, reliable data.
Sophia Lee: As evaluators we often have the opportunity to be “in the room where it happens,”* advising decision makers and people in power. Our work directly contributes to decisions that have widespread impacts on communities that are not, and likely will never be, in the room. Speaking truth to power is about our responsibility to accurately represent the people behind our facts and figures and ensure their voices are heard.
Ellen Marya: We use evaluation to speak truth to power by helping amplify the voices of our clients and their constituents. Through evaluation, we support our clients to tell the story of their work and their communities to policymakers, funders, and other powerful stakeholders. Evaluation can provide compelling data, innovative perspectives, and focused messaging to magnify the amazing work our clients are doing and the impact it is having.
Amy Ramos: With data and facts comes great power! As evaluators, we help our clients engage in authentic conversations about the forces behind the numbers. To cultivate a spirit of continuous improvement within our clients, we try to create fun and engaging ways of engaging with data where staff from all levels (e.g., front line program staff, leaderships, managers, etc.) are welcomed to participate. Our engagement strategies demystify data and allow for all program staff to have a voice.
Tim Morrison: As a values-driven evaluator, I confront a common tension between efficiency and equity. For instance, it’s efficient to ask program staff to represent the perspectives of those they serve, but it advances equity to develop a process that meaningfully enables those at the bottom of the power axis to share their own perspectives directly. To speak truth to power means to push back when the efficiency force threatens to marginalize our equity intention, and to invite truth from those with the least voice.
Richard Vezina: One thing we talk a lot about at Harder+Company is the power that we hold as evaluators. So when I think about speaking truth to power, I don’t just think about the power some clients or stakeholders have. I also think about what I need to do to be aware of my own power. That means encouraging open dialogue, inviting critique, and questioning assumptions that my clients, my team, or I personally bring to the work. Doing these things isn’t always comfortable, but it’s necessary.
* Yes, this is a Hamilton reference.