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Evaluation as a platform to support equity and social justice

Updated: Jan 28, 2019

The systems, policies, programs, and practices that propagate our unjust and inequitable society are the products of, and often contributors to, our white supremacist history. These factors play into previous and ongoing social issues such as red lining and horrendously unethical experimentation on communities of color (i.e. Tuskegee, the story of Henrietta Lacks, etc.), and current issues such as family separation and differential terrorism prison sentencing associated with defendants’ religious preferences (Ahmed S, 2017).

Many of these atrocities were revealed to the public through some form of an evaluative effort- including journalism efforts, examining data (housing prices, mortgage/lending practices), and/or an identification of patterns by concerned citizens. Evaluation, by definition, is process that critically examines a program or phenomena (Patton, 1987) and leverages the most appropriate data and insight to improve effectiveness and inform future direction. Further, impact evaluation (a specific approach to evaluation), examines the consequence, both intended and unintended, of the intervention of interest.

Most programmatic and organizational evaluation efforts will not reveal inequities and injustices as direct and blatant as those mentioned above. However, most inequities that are found today can be traced back to policies and programs that created or propagated unjust social, environmental, and political conditions.For instance, evaluation efforts examining access to care in a clinical environment may find that some local communities defined by race/geography/income/language/etc. may find a disproportionately high no-show rate. Further evaluative investigation utilizing principles of equitable evaluation may reveal a lack of personal transportation and a challenge in accessing public transportation to arrive to appointments among patients from the identified subpopulation. This lack of access is reflective of public transportation routes that were decided by individuals and committees that deemed specific routes inappropriate or limited in profitability. This is a real and prime example of how a patient behavior (high no-show rates) can be attributed to a social and geographical inequity, which could have been attributed to other factors without critical inquiry utilizing equitable evaluation strategies. If the root cause of these challenges were not revealed, interventions may have focused on patient behaviors such as increased appointment reminders and intentional double booking, whereas system’s level interventions including advocacy for public transit lines and potentially affordable fares, would ultimately provide restorative justice. Further thought and inquiry should be dedicated to understanding economic factors associated with limited personal transportation.

In our perspective, it is critical that an equitable evaluation lens is utilized in all evaluation efforts focusing on policy, practice, and programing. As the United States navigates a tumultuous political time, organizations dedicated to equity, justice, diversity, and inclusion need to uniformly embed these principles into all work, including evaluation. It is only through these unified organizational, intraorganizational, individual, and community efforts can a just and equitable society be achieved for generations to come.

If you are ready to explore, develop, and further equitable evaluation efforts and are interested in a thought partner- we are inspired and happy to help! Please reach out through our contact page or sending an email to

Works Cited

Ahmen, S. Is History Repeating Itself? Sentencing Young American Muslims in the War on Terror. The Yale Law Journal. 126 (5). 2017.

Patton, M.Q. Qualitative Research Evaluation Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishers. 1987.


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