Creating Space for Open, Honest Conversations about Race, Equity, and Power

by Meg Long, President at Equal Measure

This abridged story was originally published on our Impact Blog

During the “Art and Science of Place-Based Evaluation” convening, there was substantial discussion about the role evaluators can play in shining a light on race, equity, and power in a community. Most conversations at the convening focused on highly developmental evaluation approaches, where the evaluator becomes part of the change strategy — testing different lines of inquiry, bringing different themes and data forward for community discussion, engaging the community in primary data collection to build local capacity, and playing an important role as an active contributor to community change efforts.

While a local evaluator who is embedded in the change strategy can be a huge asset, the conversation sparked me to consider the role that national or portfolio-level evaluators — or those who are charged with a more summative evaluation — can play in creating the space for open, honest conversations about race, equity, and power. Without a doubt, this approach requires the evaluator to understand and navigate the history of the community, balance formal and informal power dynamics, and identify perspectives that have traditionally dominated — including those that have been intentionally and unintentionally overlooked — with the intent of bringing these to the fore.

So how does a national evaluation partner working with close to 100 communities create space for honest conversations about race, equity, and power? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Engage “end users” (e.g., youth in the OYIF investment) and various stakeholders in the development of data collection instruments.
  • Develop ways to share aggregate- and community-specific data in ways that help partners see where they fall against other communities with regard to the measures they helped define.
  • Use targeted interview processes to help community members define what “DEI” means in the context of their work and their community.
  • Lead conversations with community members to test assumptions whenever the chance arises — for instance, at national convenings or during periodic data collection sessions.
  • Continuously integrate concepts of community history; power dynamics; and diversity, equity, and inclusion in evaluation frameworks, data collection tools and processes, and reporting tools.
  • Allow community partners to adopt and adapt your data collection tools. 

I offer these suggestions as fodder for deeper conversation about the role evaluators — whether from within or outside the community — can play in facilitating open and honest conversations about race, equity, and power. I look forward to continuing the discussion when we meet again at the next place-based convening, at the American Evaluation Association conference, or wherever our paths may cross.