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  • Writer's pictureLauren Beriont

Making space for emotion in evaluation

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

When I first started writing this blog, I was in a place of deep frustration and justified anger. As I revisit and revise, I find myself in a calmer mindset, although the rage is still there and is still important, albeit more “cold” anger than “hot” anger. I’ve learned a lot from this rage, and I think my colleagues have as well. I’m sharing my own experience because I also think our field of evaluation could learn a lot if we lean into our collective rage. Here are some of the bigger questions I’ve been sitting with re: rage:

In evaluation how do we attend to, account for, and allow anger to show up in our work? When have we been guilty of dismissing what we label as an angry rant that felt like an incoherent outlier? How can we make space for people’s anger with oppressive systems from the beginning? And what's our responsibility as evaluators to accurately represent what we hear, to not tone down that rage to make it “palatable”?

Let me first start with where this is coming from: Here’s the short of it: My wife and I became foster parents in 2020. 5 kids under age 5 have come in and out of our care. There is a lot more to our story, but in many ways it is not my story to tell, it is the kids’ stories. As an evaluator I’ve gotten to know child welfare and health systems fairly well from the organizational side - working with staff on program strategy and improvement. As a foster parent I’ve gotten to know a whole different side as someone who is just trying to do what’s best for these kiddos and their families.

What I experienced as a well-resourced person navigating the healthcare and child welfare systems was not surprising, but it was a horrific - long wait times, confusing and jargony court hearings, frustrations with insurance companies, unexpected hospital visits, medical supply companies withholding critical life supplies, caseworkers talking about the kids’ trauma in front of them.

We've dealt with a lot in the last year - navigating the system made me angry. Angrier than I've ever been. And it is that kind of anger that is hot, makes you less patient, less pleasant. Even as I've refined this draft, I'm torn between the first version - raw and full of expletives, ALL CAPS, and exclamation points!!!! And this toned down version with thoughtful edits from my wife and colleagues to soften it. I'm afraid I'll be dismissed as disgruntled and incoherent - there goes another sleep deprived parent losing their sh**. But the reality is that I was sleep deprived and angry. I brought that with me to my work and my feelings were only amplified by the negative reactions and tone policing I encountered in expressing these authentic emotions in my professional life this year.

As evaluators, I wonder who else we are taking less seriously because of warranted emotions they’re bringing into conversations? What professional standards or emotional expectations are we consciously or unconsciously considering as appropriate or inappropriate? How can we make sense of the jumble of thoughts that emerge in these emotion-laden discussions?

Let’s relate this consideration to evaluation data collection. Are we taking program participants' feedback less seriously if they’re angry? Are program participants editing themselves to conform to a professional norm and leaving us with an incomplete data set?

In our pursuit of equitable evaluation, we often evaluate and seek to disrupt racist and classist structures. People entangled in those racist and classist structures are often angry. Why wouldn’t they be? When we don’t make space for that anger we are centering the racist structures rather than the individuals we are joining in the pursuit of co-liberation.

How can we allow and actively invite a full range of emotions in data collection spaces? How can we validate people in their moments of anger and make space for healing? How does that raw emotion come through in reporting…or not?

At EC we’re conscious of how we match our team of evaluators to projects where we have lived experience, we’ve invested in more participatory forms of evaluation, we continue to explore more visual and audio mediums in reporting that can better express anger, and we lean into and draw from our own experiences while centering the rage of folks navigating broken systems.

As an evaluator, my experience of anger has been really important for me, although it has been challenging to navigate within our collaboration as a collective. I know I am not alone; many of my colleagues and you all in the evaluation field also have your own deep and traumatic experiences. Some of us have or are currently navigating the systems we’re evaluating. That said, very few of us navigate all the systems we’re evaluating and embracing the range of rage can help to bridge this disconnect.

If nothing else:

Engage with anger.

Learn from anger.

Allow for healing.

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