Welcome to EvalYOU, a new feature from TCEC in which we dig deep into evaluation topics that are important to your work. Have questions, comments, or ideas for a topic you'd like to know more about? Let us know!
Cultural Humility in Evaluation: There are No Experts
by Danielle Lippert, MPH 

As CTCP encourages programs to continue to focus efforts in working with priority populations most impacted by tobacco-related health disparities, our strategies must also adapt to these changing demographics. Sometimes it may feel difficult to know where to begin in adjusting our approach to best address these often hard-to-reach populations. An easy and effective place to start is by infusing cultural humility into evaluation activities and plans.

What is cultural humility? Hook et al. (2013) introduce the idea of cultural humility “as having an interpersonal stance that is other-oriented rather than self-focused, characterized by respect and lack of superiority toward an individual’s cultural background and experience”.1 What does this definition mean? Tervalon and Murray-Garcia (1998) note that “cultural humility requires practitioners to engage in self-reflection and self-critique as lifelong learners.”2 While these articles reference work in mental health and health care, these are powerful principles to apply to tobacco control evaluation as well.

Cultural humility differs slightly from cultural competence in that the focus becomes self-reflection (team, agency, and/or individual evaluator) rather than any expectation of mastering any skillset or knowledge. This slight difference can carry heavy implications. Want to hear the good news? There is no burden to be an expert, all that is required is the willingness to approach your evaluation work with a humble and open mind.  Be ready to embrace that you “don’t know what you don’t know.” No one can be expected to be an authority in any culture, but by having an attitude of cultural humility in our quest to learn more about other cultures, we can then become more competent. 

What does cultural humility look like in practice? Let’s take a public opinion survey for example. With the intention of cultural inclusiveness, one might (and rightly so) ensure that a survey is available in multiple languages and administered in various locations known to have diverse groups of ethnicities. Great start. Cultural humility requires asking some questions about the process, such as: are there any biases that have crept into the survey wording; perhaps some assumptions that do not hold true for this demographic; are there biases and/or assumptions present as this information gets analyzed; is there someone or some resource that can help better inform the design of this survey and remove these barriers to gathering accurate data? Continuing to ask these types of questions as evaluation plans and instruments are developed and utilized is a concrete way to incorporate cultural humility into our work.

Because TCEC staff is invested in the idea of infusing cultural humility into tobacco control evaluation, we were excited to read the American Evaluation Association’s feature on Beverly Peters' work:  

In a blog post featured in AEA365 titled, “The Unwelcome Power of the Evaluator,” Beverly Peters discusses the intrinsic power that comes with the role of evaluating programs and ways to consider mitigating this unintentional power to increase validity of outcomes. Beverly Peters is an assistant professor of Measurement and Evaluation at American University with over 25 years of experience teaching, researching, and designing, implementing, and evaluating community development and governance projects, mainly in Southern Africa.

Peters acknowledges that in her evaluation work, who she is as “a person and an evaluator—my gender, age, nationality, and race, just to name a few attributes—impacts the data that I collect and the data to which I have access.”

Here are some of Peters’ Hot Tips:

  • Keep a personal journal during every project. This will help you to be self-reflective of who you are as a person and an evaluator, and help to identify how data might be impacted.
  • Craft a strong Evaluation Statement of Work that guides the evaluation and anticipates power relationships in the evaluation.
  • Develop intercultural communication skills and use qualitative data collection techniques to uncover the emic, or insider, values of the stakeholder population.
  • Secure a diverse evaluation team that includes local professionals that will contribute to data collection, dialogue, and understanding.

We think these tips are great-- here are a few TCEC helpful ideas:

  • Reach out to stakeholders from diverse backgrounds for input and help with the evaluation process.
  • Pilot test data collection instruments to ensure that the question and response options are appropriate for the target populations.
  • Educate yourself about the cultural groups involved in your program and/or evaluation.
  • Recognize that diversity means relationships of difference, including differences in communication, life view, definitions of family, identity, culture, experiences of institutional racism/sexism/ageism/homophobia/and other biases.
  • Avoid jargon and exclusive language and behaviors.
  • Be careful of tokenism, when an organization considers the perspective of one person to be reflective of their entire cultural group. 3

Taking a little time to reassess our evaluation efforts through this lens of cultural humility can really pay off in the long run; it can provide ease of mind that this work can result in more valid and meaningful outcomes. Stepping out of our comfort zone to adapt our efforts can be a powerful way to increase the impact our work has on the communities we serve.

Keep an eye out; TCEC will be developing additional resources and an in-person training on this topic in the near future!

Want to Learn More?
Hook, Joshua N.,Davis, Don E.,Owen, Jesse,Worthington Jr., Everett L.,Utsey, Shawn O (2013). Cultural humility: Measuring openness to culturally diverse clients. Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol 60(3), Jul 2013, 353-366
Tervalon, M., & Murray-Garcia, J. (1998). Cultural humility versus cultural competence: A critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Undeserved, 9, 117–125. doi:10.1353/hpu.2010.0233

The Tobacco Control Evaluation Center. (2012). “Culture in Evaluation #11: Making Your
Evaluations More Culturally Competent.”
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