Learning Through Teaching

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I just returned from the AEA’s Summer Institute, where I co-taught a half-day workshop with Ariela Braverman and Laura McElherne, and I am still buzzing! 

Our workshop was called “Trauma-Informed and Equitable Evaluation: Tools and Practices Towards Healing and Liberation”, and we taught it twice, back-to-back to two wonderful and engaged groups of evaluators and evaluator-adjacent folks. We began by level-setting with a section on Trauma 101, proceeded to talk about the impact of trauma on the body, and then discussed the different levels on which trauma is experienced and on which it has an impact: biological, psychological, family, community, and historical/generational levels are all affected. Next we introduced the Equitable Evaluation Initiative and discussed its challenge to us, as evaluators, to recognize our role as advancing a more equitable world rather than just pretending we can be neutral observers without impacting the people and organizations we work with. We then explained the principles for trauma-informed work, including our own principles for trauma-informed data collection. 

My favorite part of trauma-informed approaches is the way they emphasize power, strength, resilience, and healing. We had interesting discussions with both groups about the ways that individuals and communities can and do heal. These discussions ranged from whether there are ways to treat or cure cortisol resistance to working with people currently experiencing ongoing trauma, versus healing from trauma that has ended, to the role of evaluators in managing social change processes. In particular, I remember that a participant shared with us a prompt they had used in past work: “What does community healing look like?”. I have shivers imagining the potential for catalyzing change with a project founded in this question.

We finished the workshop by presenting a fictional evaluation project scenario in which our participants had to figure out a) how to apply trauma-informed and equitable practices and b) how to convince their funder, “Traditional Tim,” that these were important changes to invest in.

I love teaching and facilitating because although we were there in the role of teachers and facilitators, we learned and deepened our own thinking. In particular, I’ve been thinking about an addition that one participant suggested to our existing guidelines for trauma-informed data collection. This participant looked at our guidelines, which we developed through thinking about one-time data collection engagements and based on trauma-informed approaches for healthcare, and asked us, “where does trust fit in?”. My first reaction was “of course trust is central to everything!”. But then looking at our guidelines, I realized that the importance of building relationships of trust remained implicit – or were maybe even missing. So expect our next iteration of our trauma-informed guidelines for data collection to include a point about trust – and thank you, students and participants!

Carolyn (Carrie) Fisher, PhD

Research and Evaluation Scientist