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Evaluation Is So White: Systemic Wrongs Reinforced by Common Practices and How to Start Righting Them

by Fontane Lo; Rachele Espiritu

Oct 20, 2020

What will it take for evaluators of color to flourish in the evaluation ecosystem? Our Action Team set out to answer this question, reviewing research and exchanging perspectives across our members, which included evaluators of color and white evaluators, representing foundations, evaluation firms, and pathway programs.

The recent civil uprisings and the disparate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color have thrown into stark relief the need for more equitable systems throughout American society. As philanthropy strives to address that need, it is imperative to make evaluation a tool "for and of equity" as called for by the Equitable Evaluation Initiative. Funders, evaluation firms, and pathway programs each have an important role to play in cultivating an ecosystem that is more inclusive of diverse perspectives and lived expertise.

While our work is situated in a broader landscape and perspective, this document focuses on systemic challenges evaluators of color face in their educational and career pathways. We draw attention to common practices in the field of philanthropy that have negative consequences for evaluators of color and provide early-stage ideas on mitigating strategies and processes. The ideas are organized around three key stakeholders:

  • FundersFoundation staff in evaluation and learning roles as well as program staff who work directly with evaluators.
  • Evaluation FirmsSmall to mid-size evaluation firms are the focus here, although ideas may also apply to larger academic institutions and research centers.
  • Pathway ProgramsProfessional development programs which support evaluators of color through mentorship, internship, job placement, contracting, and networking.

We recognize and state plainly that the challenges and barriers evaluators of color face are systemic and deeply rooted in our culture and society. They are products of a longstanding history of discriminatory practices, policies, and narratives. We share ideas and recommendations that may begin to mitigate these challenges, while honoring the fact that creating a truly equitable field goes well beyond the solutions we offer here. We seek to identify immediate and actionable steps that can be taken now while recognizing there is broader work to be done, and conversations to be had, to dismantle white-dominant culture and practices within philanthropy and evaluation.