Evaluation in a cultural context

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. —Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa

At its heart, social impact evaluation is about people. It is about ensuring that people are best served by the interventions/schemes and as evaluators, our fundamental job is to understand people and see if their needs are being met. To accurately gather data and communicate with people is to be aware that certain contexts influence the interpretation and information gained through any program. Everything we do, from our assumptions to our implementation strategies stem from our cultural vantage point. It is important to approach evaluation strategies with a critical cultural perspective to unearth specific, relevant and meaningful data, better meet needs and avoid inconsistencies of misunderstandings. Thus, developing cultural competencies is a valuable asset for an evaluator.

In the developing world, and especially in the South Asian context, we still count Western frameworks as the most robust tools, and often adapt these to our current context. This results in a serious gap, and an urgent need to develop our own tools that are congruent to cultural norms. We have sound south asian evaluation theory, and need to incorporate that into practice to enable deeper, more specific engagement through our social impact.

There are many paths to create a culturally competent rigorous evaluation tool. To begin, one must engage with all the stakeholders to understand their perspectives and keep them involved. It is also important to be mindful of our own cultural biases while preparing the tool, and be aware of how various aspects of our own and the community’s culture will affect implementation and evaluation. This helps recognize the particular challenges and benefits a culture will lend to the methods.

Cultural competence at its core is about sensitivity, unlearning assumptions and broadening our perspectives to account for multiple voices over one monolithic view. To view culture as an important influencer for everyone, from evaluator to people impacted, will strengthen design processes for evaluation and ultimately, enrich social engagement.

– Devina Buchkshee, Research Associate – 4th Wheel Social Impact

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