Building evidence

Indigenous evaluation

The value of documenting your program’s recipe through program evaluation is that you can adjust your ingredients or modify your steps for different community taste-testers. In this toolkit we described the utility of logic models for program evaluation and exploring what ingredients go into making your services or initiative. While logic models are a helpful tool, they also suggest a linear progression of how program inputs (elements of the program) can influence program outputs (the desired goals of a program). We recognize that this type of program evaluation comes from a Western framework of understanding behavior and behavior change. An Indigenous framework provides us with an alternative approach that affirms the beliefs, customs, and experiences of indigenous communities.  

Historically, evaluation work with indigenous communities in the Americas was characterized by “top-down” (non-participatory) evaluation approaches. Outside evaluators selected evaluation designs and tools with little or no input from community members and practitioners. As evaluation is often tied to funding decisions, traditional approaches in evaluation have historically been tied to the threat of losing needed services and resources. Indigenous evaluation frameworks acknowledge and seek to repair this legacy of harm and distrust through the use of participatory methods and tools that are consistent with Indigenous world views and realities. 

Indigenous evaluation: Getting started

Prior to using the Indigenous framework, we recommend to also review the following documents as they provide important content into understanding Indigenous communities and making your evaluation successful:

  • Who are Indigenous People? [Pdf handout]
  • Indigenous Worldviews [Pdf handout]
  • What are the elements of an Indigenous Framework: Principles for Indigenous Research (Hart, 2010) [Pdf handout]
  • What are some considerations for working with Indigenous communities? [Pdf handout]

Recipes in the kitchen often include multiple components, such as chicken or fish, vegetables, beans, rice, and very often the meal is complemented with a type of bread or flatbread. There is no lack of diversity of breads in the Americas. Tortilla, pan de agua, pan de yuca, and arepas, to name a few. Some of these breads may be familiar to you, some may not. What we serve participants from our kitchens most often reflects our own cultural experiences and lens. Taking the time to critically evaluate the components of our programs for cultural relevancy, and to seek feedback from program participants (our “taste-testers”), can help strengthen the evaluation process. 

Throughout the evaluation, the team should reflect and consider the following:

  • Understanding the cultural context using participatory methods 
  • Build culturally specific and locally meaningful elements
  • Integrate culture into all aspects of a program
  • Include immediate and extended family of your participants

Once we consider the items above, we must engage community members. This could be by giving Indigenous communities opportunity to decide program priorities, set program agenda, and critical areas to address.

Determine if program works

An important difference between an indigenous approach to evaluation and traditional approaches is the types of outcomes and measures we use to determine success. To assess if the current program in place is working:

  • Consider community-level outcomes (i.e. creating more organizational leadership roles, improving sense of community) as opposed to just individual-level outcomes (i.e. changing attitudes on healthy relationships) 
  • Use a holistic approach by exploring mental, physical, emotional and spiritual outcomes
  • Allow outcomes of your program to emerge without specifying specific predictions a priori (beforehand)

Collecting, analyzing & interpreting data

The purpose of collecting, analyzing and interpreting data is to explore your community needs and cultural fit. The following are methods used in the process of collecting, analyzing and interpreting data:

  • Use qualitative methods (storytelling, focus groups, interviews, talking circles, photovoice).
  • Share results with community members and elicit their interpretations of findings.