Today’s Public Administrators asks administrators working in the public sphere about their experience implementing and shaping policy on the ground. This segment talks with Dr. Dominica McBride, an award-winning evaluator and Founder/CEO of Become: Center for Community Engagement and Social Change. Through her organization, Dr. McBride uses culturally-responsive practices to collaborate, train, and create program evaluation work for individuals, organizations, and communities to use. Dr. McBride joined Trachtenberg for an informal lunch and a talk entitled “Evaluation Sparking Social Change” on Oct. 5. She speaks more about her experience here.
Q: What is evaluation? Why is it important to do?
A: The textbook answer is evaluation is a systematic inquiry around how effective a program, process, or policy is. Ideally, it’s a process to improve programs and benefit the community that program or policy is serving the community. But it can also be divorced from where the community is, unfortunately.
I am passionate about effective, real, sustainable, desired change and I don’t think we are going to get there without evaluation. Evaluation is a key to a door. Without that key, you keep smashing against the door, doing the same things over and over, and you stay in the same place. Evaluation can unlock that and help you move forward.
Q: What is culturally responsive evaluation?
A: Culturally responsive evaluation looks like the evaluator cares and learns about the culture of the community. Ideally, they become a part of the culture or they are already from it. They have the cultural knowledge and lived experience. There is true care there for the participants, people who are affected by that policy or program. It is developing a design for an evaluation and tools to respond to what a community wants. Go to the root needs.
The evaluator also acts as a contextual investigator. What policies are affecting them? What community dynamics could be affecting them and getting in the way? What historical dynamics could be affecting them and getting in the way? On the flip side, what dynamics are useful and can be built on? Also in the process, the evaluator builds the capacity of the community: their skills, knowledge, and resources. A resource could be the data they have. The community can use the evaluation report to advocate, or they can use the data and results to make the change they want to see. They can use the information for themselves.
Q: Why is culturally responsive evaluation not done more?
A: There are too often not enough resources to do this well. Often, resources are not allocated [toward culturally responsive evaluation] because someone doesn’t know or care enough to allocate them in that way. A mindset shift is needed with decision makers to say we value what skills and talents the community has, we want that to be inclusive in the evaluation, in the development of a policy and in decision making.
Q: Please describe an example of an evaluation project from Become, Inc. Why did it go well?
When working with the ARK of Saint Sabina, the youth development arm of a Catholic church in Chicago, we convened a community evaluation team. We included the youth the ARK serves, their parents, neighbors, an elder, and staff. We acted as a facilitator and coach for them to make the decisions. The team chose the evaluation questions and methods. We went over the pros and cons of all of these, taught them how to collect data, and they helped us analyze the data.
It went well because we brought together a group of people who were or could be affected by the organization and we valued their input in the process. We met every month for a year, and they came! The community members cared about the issue and their community, and they felt heard and respected by us.