What does an evaluator do? If you asked me this when I first started in this field, I might have said things like “measure outcomes”, “design data collection tools”, or “analyze data to understand program impact”. But if you were to ask me now, I would say that one of the most fundamental and important things we do is ask good questions, which lay the groundwork for the methods, approaches, and tools we decide to use.
The importance of asking good questions has become particularly salient for me as I have been participating in ICH’s ongoing efforts to reflect on and examine racial equity in our internal organizational practices as well as in our consulting work. We have been inspired and guided by the Equitable Evaluation Initiative (EEI), which challenges us to “Imagine what might be possible if evaluation was conceptualized, implemented, and utilized in a manner that promotes equity”. More than ever before, ICH is being asked to integrate equitable evaluation approaches into our project plans. When we talk about this with our funders and partners, we have learned to resist the impulse to jump right to answers and solutions. Instead, we try to take a step back and start with inquiry and discussion, using the three core principles in EEI’s Equitable Evaluation Framework to help us organize the questions that we ask.
More and more, we are understanding that equitable evaluation is not a pre-defined approach that can be applied the same way to all projects, but rather a path that requires thoughtful reflection to identify how we can deepen our understanding, adapt and tailor our approaches, and work to keep improving our practice over time. We won’t always have the answers right away, and we strive to have humility about this. But by asking thoughtful questions, we can take steps in the right direction.