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Teresa Boyd Cowles of the Connecticut Department of Education offers self-reflective strategies evaluators can use to enhance their multicultural competency.

Many evaluators—from the novice to the experienced—will find themselves involved with evaluating programs for a growing number of diverse and multicultural children, youth, families, and communities. Growth in diversity demands multiculturally competent evaluators, yet evaluators' efforts to enhance their skills in working with multicultural populations are not keeping up with the demand.

Cultural competence has been described as “a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals and enables that system, agency, or those professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.”1 The prefix multi and the suffix culture imply many integrated patterns of human behavior, including thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, and values as they relate to racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups. Competence implies the capacity to function in a particular way within the context of culturally integrated patterns of human behavior. Consequently, competent multicultural functioning means learning new patterns of behavior and effectively applying them in appropriate or varied settings.

Continuous self-reflection and self-evaluation are proactive means for sustaining multicultural competency. The following strategies have been adapted from Gorski's suggestions for becoming a better multicultural educator and serve as a guide for enhancing evaluators' multicultural competency to improve evaluation practice.2

1. Engage in self-reflective writing or journaling to explore your own identity development. Everyone has a multicultural identity. Reflect on how your identity has developed and evolved over time. Erikson began writing about identity development years ago3 and many others since have agreed that an authentic racial identity is a critical component to becoming culturally competent.4

2. Invite critique from colleagues and accept it openly. It's difficult to accept critique and even more difficult to publicly solicit and acknowledge feedback. Get in the habit of inviting critique and thanking colleagues for offering it. Sharing with your peers enables you to be an objective, fair, and judicious evaluator.

3. Examine the relationship between intent and impact. We intend evaluations to be beneficial; however, their impact can be detrimental. It is easier to focus on our intent regardless of the impact, but unintentional outcomes can be just as damaging as intentional ones. Realize that there may be a mismatch between your intent and the actual impact of an evaluation, and reflect on how to take a different approach in the future.

4. Reject the myth of color blindness. It is simply unnatural to be color blind. Everyone is touched, moved, or affected by race the moment they enter the world. Race shapes how others see us and how we view ourselves. Achievement gaps, dropout rates, and life expectancy are a reality of being a person of color in the United States. Seeing color acknowledges the racial disparities and affirms the whole person; color is an important part of our identity.

5. Recognize that stakeholders' identity group may affect their experiences and the evaluation process. Evaluation may be an unwelcome part of any community or organization, and evaluators may have little control over how people experience or interpret their intentions. Stakeholders base their reactions on a lifetime of experiences (i.e., their own identity development). Try not to take stakeholders' reactions personally, but be aware that they may have an impact on the evaluation process. As stated by Scriven, “The most difficult problems with program evaluation are not methodological or political but psychological.”5

6. Build coalitions with evaluators who differ in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, first language, disability, and other identity facets. Most of us grew up or live in relatively homogenous communities and may only interact with people who are different from us at work or at professional meetings. Go beyond superficial socializing by consciously developing multicultural coalitions, even in informal settings. This effort will foster authentic, trusting, and honest relationships.

7. Acknowledge the role of a social activist. Evaluators help determine the merit, worth, and effectiveness of programs and policies that affect multicultural populations. Because of this, evaluators can change the lives of others. Acknowledging this privately and publicly is an important step in accounting for the responsibility, power, and privilege that evaluators have.

8. Educate yourself. Multicultural competence is about what is yet to be discovered in the moment; it is contextually specific. Recognize the limitations of textbook cultural information. Having adept knowledge about the history and current struggles of the social and cultural groups that compose society is fundamental to being affirmative and inclusive. However, education also comes from stepping out of your comfort zone. Explore different people on multiple dimensions and in different places; this is education.

9. Take responsibility before looking for fault elsewhere. Stakeholders who appear to be purposely uncooperative may be simply reacting to your body language, management style, history from past evaluations, or other factors you bring to the table. Consider what may or may not be contributing to their disengagement. Taking accountability for your role in your interactions during the evaluation process improves the conditions of the evaluation.

10. Examine your methods. Your rationale for selecting particular methods and tools serves to enhance or inhibit what Kirkhart terms multicultural validity.6 Scrutinizing your methodology will make you more familiar with a variety of techniques, thereby enhancing your ability to distinguish, detect, and control measurement bias in testing and other assessment tools.

“Culture is dynamic and ever-changing; therefore enhancing multicultural competency is a life-long process.”7 Unless evaluators engage in critical self-reflection and ongoing discovery, they stay trapped in unexamined judgments, interpretations, assumptions, and expectations. Every moment spent in self-critique, however challenging and tedious, gives rise to an evaluator who is better equipped to work with the multicultural people and diverse communities that encompass evaluation practice. Welcome to a never ending journey.

1 Cross, T. L., Bazron, B. J., Dennis, K. W., & Isaacs, M. R. (1989). Towards a culturally competent system of care: A monograph on effective services for minority children who are severely emotionally disturbed (Vol. 1). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development.
2 Gorski, P. (2004). 20 (self-)critical things I will do to be a better multicultural educator. Retrieved June 8, 2005, from
3 Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. London: Faber & Faber.
4 Carter, R. T. (1995). The influence of race and racial identity in psychotherapy: Toward a racially inclusive model. San Francisco: Jossey Bass; Giroux, H. A. (1997). Rewriting the discourse of racial identity: Towards a pedagogy and politics of Whiteness. Harvard Educational Review, 67(2), 285–320; Helms, J. E. (Ed.). (1990). Black and white racial identity: Theory, research, and practice. Westport, CT: Greenwood; Howard, G. R. (1999). We can't teach what we don't know: White teachers, multiracial schools. New York: Teachers College Press; Phinney, J. (1992). The Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM): A new scale for use with adolescents and young adults from diverse groups. Journal of Adolescent Research, 7(2), 156–176; Tatum, B. D. (1994). Teaching white students about racism: The search for White allies and the restoration of hope. Teachers College Record, 95(4), 462–476.
5 Scriven, M. (Ed.). (1993). Hard-won lessons in program evaluation [Special issue]. New Directions for Evaluation, 58.
6 Kirkhart, K. E. (1995). Seeking multicultural validity: A postcard from the road. Evaluation Practice, 16(1), 1–12.
7 Symonette, H. (2004). Walking pathways toward becoming a culturally competent evaluator: Boundaries, borderlands, and border crossings. New Directions for Evaluation, 102, 95–109.

Teresa Boyd Cowles, Ph.D.
Education Consultant
Program Evaluation
Connecticut State Department of Education
Connecticut Technical High School System
25 Industrial Park Road
Middletown, CT 06457
Tel: 860-807-2224

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