When the new issue of the American Evaluation Association’s New Directions for Evaluation arrived in the office, our whole team was excited to talk about it. The fall 2017 volume explored the theories of Paulo Freire, the Brazilian teacher and author whose work focused on social justice issues, such as education, decolonization, labor, and politics. Due to the density of the issue, we focused on one segment, “The Global Impact of Freire’s Pedagogy”, by Moacir Gadotti, which applied Freire’s pedagogy to evaluation.
One idea in the article that struck a chord with us was thinking about the difference between evaluation conducted on/for people and evaluation conducted in collaboration with people. Freire’s pedagogy aligns with the latter, as a “participatory” model of evaluation. Gadotti writes,
“Freirean education is aligned with this other society project in which there is no place for oppressors and oppressed, but for citizens with equal rights living together in a radical form of democracy. Teacher and student, project leader and members of the team, evaluators and people being evaluated are producers and managers of a knowledge that will be used to transform reality.”
As in Freire’s pedagogy, in the participatory evaluation process, all participants are invested and empowered. Additionally, the participatory process guarantees that all stakeholders learn from the evaluation experience. Unlike the traditional model where the evaluator provides findings to the client (and likely not at all to evaluation participants) at the end of the study, all evaluation participants “democratically” work together to conduct the study, which helps everyone understand the evaluation process. Then, through reflection and implementation, everyone can apply study findings to improve their work and lives.
This collaborative and democratic evaluation process complements Freire’s belief that education helps individuals think critically and independently, which liberates them by providing tools so they can make personally and socially beneficial choices. Freire believed this approach could lead to a utopia of “universal human ethic,” dismantling social inequalities. As evaluators, we are often extremely pragmatic, which does not leave a lot of room for thinking about utopias. But discussing these concepts allowed us to ponder the aspirational possibilities for our work.