By: Patricia Moore Shaffer
Principal & CEO
Indigenous programs hold immense potential to revitalize communities, languages, and cultural practices. But measuring their success often feels like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Western evaluation frameworks, with their emphasis on objectivity, generalizability, and standardized metrics, often clash with Indigenous values and ways of knowing.
There's a growing movement toward grounding evaluation of Indigenous programs in Indigenous values and priorities. Key principles include:
1. Centering relationships
Western evaluation often feels transactional, but Indigenous evaluation prioritizes relationships. Build trust with participants, listen deeply to their needs and aspirations, and involve them throughout the evaluation process. As LaFrance (2010) emphasizes, evaluation should be "for the community, with the community, and by the community."
2. Focusing on holistic well-being
Indigenous evaluation goes beyond numbers and test scores. It considers the program's impact on cultural identity, language revitalization, spiritual well-being, and community cohesion. The Bowman and Archibald (2023) framework offers a helpful guide, encompassing dimensions like cultural revitalization, governance, and relationships.
3. Embracing storytelling
Indigenous knowledge is traditionally passed down through stories. Storytelling methods like focus groups, circles, and visual arts gather rich data that captures the program's nuances and complexities. This aligns with the "strengths-based" approach highlighted in the BCNEIHR toolkit (2023), focusing on what's working rather than deficits.
4. Prioritizing cultural protocols
Respecting cultural protocols is essential. Guidance from Elders and knowledge keepers help ensure evaluation methods are culturally appropriate.
5. Being flexible and adaptable
Indigenous communities are diverse and dynamic. Similarly, evaluators must be prepared to adjust their approach based on the specific program and community context.
By following these principles, we can move away from extractive evaluation practices that benefit outsiders more than the Indigenous communities we engage and serve. Instead, we can build evaluation processes that are culturally grounded, ethical, and truly answer the question: "Is this program making a good life for Indigenous people?"
This is just a starting point, of course! There's so much more to learn and explore in the realm of Indigenous evaluation. But by centering relationships, holistic well-being, and Indigenous ways of knowing, we can reclaim evaluation as a tool that empowers Indigenous communities.
Learn more about Shaffer Evaluation Group's evaluation of indigenous education services and programs by visiting our website.