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An update: Evolving our language around decolonization

Our team is full of gratitude for the number of meaningful connections and insightful conversations that have been sparked by the start of our Decolonizing Evaluation blog series. Pursuing unconventional and anti-oppressive approaches to evaluation and capacity building work is what brought our team together at our company’s founding, and we are grateful to be a part of these important broader conversations in the field.


One of Emergence Collective’s core values is continuous improvement. This means we believe in - and seek to embody - an ongoing process of strengthening our work as an organization and as individual team members, including and especially when it comes to our equity orientation.


Recently we’ve engaged in intentional thinking and reading, as well as several dedicated team discussions, around the language we use when we describe our work. What do we really mean when we use the term equity? When we use the term decolonization?


As we learned more about indigenous decolonization movements, our team, which does not currently include any indigenous evaluators, began to feel that our language around “decolonizing evaluation” was at best imprecise, and at worst could pull attention away from the authentic decolonization work happening in our evaluation field and beyond.


We have come to understand that decolonization is inherently about land sovereignty - including the restoration and return of stolen lands to tribal communities - and should be led by indigenous folks. Using the term “decolonizing” simplifies a complex historical system and culture. By using this term we were insinuating that decolonization is possible through the evaluation practices we noted in our blog post. This assertion felt less and less accurate as we engaged in more reading and reflecting on colonization and indigenous activism. It also was not aligned with our field’s decolonized evaluation movement, which is geared toward centering the perspectives, needs and outcomes of native communities.


So what words should we use to describe our evaluation approaches? We don’t have a hard-and-fast answer, and being okay with the gray areas is a part of our process of rejecting white supremacy and the ways it shows up in our work and on our team.


But we will seek to be more precise with our language moving forward, taking context into account as we discuss our approaches both internally and externally. The blog post series we shared feels most reflective of confronting white supremacy culture in evaluation. Other times we are talking about participatory approaches, trauma informed evaluation practices, anti-racist practice, or equitable evaluation approaches. If we were to engage in evaluation projects alongside indigenous evaluators or community leaders, it may be appropriate to refer to the work as decolonization in that context. We stay ever open-minded to the terms that will emerge in the years to come as our field, and our team’s consciousness, evolves with society!


We chose to share this post because we have observed “decolonization” language become increasingly common in social justice movements as well as within our American Evaluation Association networks. We wanted to be transparent about our internal conversations, and our team’s decision to intentionally shift our language, with the hope that we can add another perspective to the conversation. Please feel free to be in touch if you’d like to discuss this post or want to share any additional insights. We will never be done learning!


Below are just a few of the great sources we have read and discussed that helped to inform this post and our understand of decolonizing evaluation:

Decolonization is not a metaphor (Tuck and Yang, 2012)

Notes on fake decolonization (Shringarpure, 2020)

Data Justice Talk Story (Vibrant Hawai’i, 2020)


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Living on the contemporary and ancestral lands of the Potawatomi (SE Michigan) and Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation (Durham, North Carolina).
Working with partners across the country.

©2020 by Emergence Collective. Home page photo by JFL on Unsplash.