A Dialogue Between Two Evaluators of Color in Philanthropy

Maurice Samuels, Senior Evaluation Officer, and Liz Oo, Evaluation Officer, talk about their experiences as evaluators of color. Their conversation touches on lessons for the field, including more inclusive evaluation methods, meeting communities where they are, and challenging racism through evaluation and learning.

How did you enter evaluation and what role did your identity play?

Liz: I went to school for city and regional planning, driven by a desire to help communities be healthier, more sustainable, more livable — and particularly communities of color, lower income households, and immigrant communities, all communities I identified with, as a 1.5 generation immigrant who lived in cities most of my life. I wanted to study the policies and programs that affected these communities: What were the outcomes of these policies and programs? Who was affected, and who were excluded? Did the interventions do what they were designed to do? What worked and what did not, and why?

Generally, I came into the evaluation practice because it leverages things I like: asking annoying questions, playing with spreadsheets, making maps, talking to people, and learning. Evaluation has the potential to tackle hard truths. There is so much potential for evaluation to tackle racism — which is rooted in untruths and that have no founding in evidence.

How do your identities impact your work? Has your racial and ethnic identity created challenges?

Maurice: Historically, the field of evaluation has excluded voices of individuals and groups that have been marginalized. As such, my identity has made me sensitive to whose truth is being told and how it is being represented in an evaluation. Over the last 20 years, there have been a number of pathways programs, initiatives, and networks such as Graduate Education Diversity Internship, Equitable Evaluation, Funder & Evaluator Affinity Network that have focused on diversifying the field of evaluation and centering racial equity in evaluations. An ongoing challenge is how does the field continue to diversify with more BIPOC evaluators and keep, recognize, and value them. How do we undo many of the behaviors and practices that were put in place by a dominate group? This is an imperative given the current complexities, circumstances, and harsh racial and ethnic inequities that are present in our systems.

What unique opportunities, roles, and importance do you see for BIPOC evaluators in philanthropy?

Moreover, there is a problem where evaluators derive confidence, or rigor. People tend to value numbers and undervalue perspectives and feelings. Qualitative data can provide a richness and depth of information that quantitative data cannot. Both forms of information are valid. Collecting information, especially qualitative information where you need to be talking and engaging with people, has real world challenges: language barriers; childcare or work; physical access; trauma; fatigue; trust. These challenges are particularly stark among BIPOC communities. When BIPOC voices are the least heard or least represented, it feels particularly important for all evaluators to work to overcome or mitigate these challenges, in order to not just represent but amplify these voices.

Maurice: I see this as a time for the field to conceptualize and implement evaluations that are in service of culture, context, equity, and justice. We must acknowledge inequitable systems and the conditions that led to the marginalization of BIPOC groups. For evaluators in the field of philanthropy, this means being intentional in centering evaluations on people, giving underrepresented groups agency, and leveraging assets of the communities to improve their well-being. It is time to challenge and interrogate traditional ideas of rigor and objectivity.

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