• Jara Dean-Coffey, MPH

Tensions Series Introduction: Practicing What We Preach – Not Pursuing Perfection

Originally published on equitableeval.org on July 1, 2020

 

One thing we consistently ask of those interested in becoming part of Equitable Evaluation Initiative (EEI) is to get COMFORTABLE exploring and sharing how they are feeling, what they are thinking and how they are doing their work differently. As we all embark upon bringing the three principles named in the Equitable Evaluation Framework™ (EEF) to life, we are immersed in the why, what for, and to what end of the work. We talk about how not to let the pursuit of perfect words get in the way of writing what is timely and relevant.

In general, EEI is still ruminating on what’s best to share broadly, mindful that the spaces we create for learning and pushing paradigms are in some ways sacred and for those present. As I write, I realize that I have been holding that unsaid commitment along with a deep sense of responsibility and humility about this work. In doing so, a set of tensions have surfaced that are important to name. Marcia and I thought it would be useful to me and to the larger effort to spend some time breaking these down, so this blog serves as an overview of the tensions, from my perspective, with deeper dives to follow.


Part of what we want to do in 2020 is expand the ways in which we communicate as it is important to honor multiple ways of expression and not to privilege the written word. But things are as they are and so in the spirit of not waiting we offer these reflections in writing and in English noting the limitations of both.


It is essential to be transparent that my gender, sex, ethnicity, and class play into this work and affect each of these tensions. I say this simply because it is true. It affects where I stand and sit, what I wear, who I sit next to, what I say (or don’t say) and who I lean on when full of joy, despair or the space in between. There are many who have led, who are alongside, and who are following for whom I am grateful. And yet, at times, there is only me.


So with this as my reality, I think a great deal about generativity. What is my responsibility to those who I follow and those who follow or are alongside me? And how do I do that while also advancing practice of the Equitable Evaluation Framework™? I don’t have an answer as to how but the tensions below are part of what I am holding.

  1. Being in front vs Standing behind - I deliberately leveraged my social capital to put the question about the “to what end and how” of evaluation in the philanthropic sector on the table. What are the risks of doing so?

  2. Building a thing vs Moving a body of work - There are some realities of the philanthropic sector in terms of the vehicles necessary to establish credibility, secure resources, and to have sufficient reach. How do we fight following the dollars and other people’s expectations and potentially become something we never desired to be?

  3. Individuals vs organizations vs systems - Each of these have an important role in shifting the evaluation paradigm. They touch on values, behaviors, policies, practices and ultimately culture. We tried to articulate this in our theory of change (yes, we have one) and design strategies and engagements with this in mind. If this work continues to expand, what should be the relationship between our theory, action and indications of progress? How do we balance the interplay between and among the moving parts?

  4. Supporting the work of others vs Creating new tools and strategies - We know, and have all borne witness to, how swiftly the move to technocratic and tactical fixes can happen without fundamental changes in what and how we value. What’s the balance to strike and what and how should that be determined? And by whom?

  5. Acknowledge those whose path we follow. By no means is this list complete. We are still learning and growing. It does however name those who have been most influential up until this moment.

Series Includes:

Tension 1: Being in Front Of vs Standing Behind

Tension 2: Building a Thing vs Moving a Body of Work

Tension 3: Individuals vs Organizations vs Systems

Tension 4: Technical Approaches vs Creating Conditions for Change

Tension 5: Acknowledging Those Whose Path We Follow

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