Racism in the field of evaluation
Being in New York during the COVID pandemic and witnessing the recent Black Lives Movement rallies made me reflect more on racism. I find it comforting that EvalForward is a safe space where we can discuss ideas openly.
I have been thinking about these evaluation questions:
- Is there systemic racism in the field and practice of evaluation?
- How comfortable are we as evaluators, in talking about racism in our field?
- How do we know where we stand in this issue? What can we do about it?
I want to begin by saying that I am not an expert on this issue. I am curious and I want to understand. In our office’s last town hall meeting, it was mentioned that racism, in its various forms, is a personal experience that if you are not in the receiving end, it would be hard to put the experience into words. I believe this is true. The topic of racism makes many people cringe, feel uncomfortable, and feel defensive -and it should (I am one of those). The Black-Lives-Matter movement is not new. It’s always been there, and every now and then, a breaking point is reached that reignites the spark which becomes into a large flame. The tide of the BLM exposes other discriminatory behavior, may it be about women, gender-based discrimination, LGBTQ, subtle racism, regionalism, etc.
As evaluators, we pride ourselves on our skills to unpack complex problems, reflect on issues, make our findings, conclusion, and recommendation. It is within this momentum of BLM that we could reflect as evaluators, in our offices, in our practices – how do we contribute to the issue – positive and/or negative? Are we enablers of discrimination? Are we passive observers? Are we active participants providing solutions? Or are we not aware of where we stand?
Do we recognize that often there is an inherent gap in capacities (including expertise in evaluation) that exist in the global north vs. global south; as a result of various reasons. This gap could be a result of generational poverty as a result of countries coming out of colonial rules and/or civil war, or simply because national capacities are only just emerging because these are new countries. It is essential to be reminded that some states have only had less than 50 years to develop, some countries have not even reached 20 years of independence (i.e., South Sudan, Kosovo, Serbia, Timor -Leste). This generational differences are reflected in the institutions in the countries, which translates to the national capacities. As evaluation commissioners, do we often expect that the “qualifications” and experiences (often we seek international experiences) from applicants coming from the global north and global south are the same? When, in fact, the global south is already starting at a disadvantage? Are we using the right tools to assess what “qualifications” against the backdrop of capacity and experience gaps? What are we doing to reach out and resolve these gaps and make the field of evaluation even for everyone? Are we embedding opportunities for evaluation capacity in our evaluation?
In our evaluation offices, are we promoting diversity? Are we making sure that the evaluators/evaluation commissioners that are tasked in assessing and writing the story of development are from different backgrounds? Are we in danger of telling a single story? This TED talk is one of my favorites. https://www.ted.com/search?q=The+danger+of+a+single+story.
I will leave it here. It would be amazing to hear your perspective.