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Cultural Competence in Organizational Settings


Laurimar Paniagua

>> Hi friends, and welcome to the Elevate Evaluate podcast. For now, I'll tell you that my name is Laurie. And if you stay tuned, you'll find out what today's podcast topic has to do with how I introduced myself. With that said, in the next few minutes, I'd like to share some points that may seem magically invisible if we, as evaluators, aren't wearing our culturally competent lenses.


So I invite you to think with me on how we might elevate the way that we evaluate through cultural competence. Most of us are used to hearing about cultural competence at school, in the news, or at work. As soon as we hear culture, our mental picture usually includes thoughts of someone who is of a different ethnicity, race, religion, and orientation.


We know enough to understand that each of these distinctions might represent a culture of thought, practice, and values that we must be ready to acknowledge within our interactions. However, as evaluators, we must see more to be culturally relevant within the evaluation process. Sometimes, the cultural markers are not as evident, so we must be intent to be culturally aware.


It may be that culture is defined by something we may not instantly identify, like age, or office culture. Think of this. As an evaluator, we may be connecting with several levels of staff within the organization that we're gonna be working with, right? So for our example, an evaluation at a community college may involve the administrative staff, such as the college president and deans.


The management staff of a department, or the full-time faculty and part-time staff who are student peer leaders. When engaging with each of these different levels of staff, we as evaluators also have to think of their work culture and other cultural differences in each of these. Here's the example we're gonna use today.


Recently, the federal stem grant in our college had its yearly valuation. Our evaluation usually lasts about three days. During those three days, an evaluator's with us. They take time to go through all of our binders, our reports, and our data. They also meet with all of the parties involved in the activities of the grant.


This includes all of the positions I mentioned earlier. During this last evaluation, though, the evaluator decided that all of the interviews would be in one place, rather than going to meet everyone in their respective offices. The meeting place of her choice was the dean's office. Now, you have to understand that most of us full-time employees don't ever see the dean, have never had a conversation with the dean, much less been in his office.


Our part-time staff are peer leaders to students, on average, about 19 years of age, and they're also students. Most of them don't know who the dean is, or where his office is. The part-time staff work directly with other students in classrooms, and in our resource center. Both areas are large and open spaces.


The attire for work is quite relaxed, where shorts and a t-shirt are acceptable. I say this to paint the picture for you of how different the dean's office would be for the part-time staff. The dean's conference room fits only about eight people, and that's tightly around an oval table.


To get there, you have to first pass three open area staff offices that are all right by the dean's office. And all of them, dressed in suit and tie. By the time my staff arrived to the conference room, I could physically see on their faces that they felt out of place.


When the evaluator asked general questions for anyone in our group to answer, they were hesitant, and they were short in their answers. They did not give credit to all the things that they did towards achieving outcomes. Right away, it tells you this is not what my staff was expecting.


However, prior to this meeting, our staff was feeling very excited to meet with the evaluator to share the progress, the accomplishments, and all their innovations. One of my staff later spelled it out for me, stating she felt they were third graders going to the principal's office about something they did wrong.


Think about what she said. Her perspective instantly tells you there's a feeling that they're not a collaborative partner whose activity and development is considered to contribute meaningful data. As an evaluator, we would never wanna make anyone feel that way. Now, this is also important for us to remember as evaluators.


These young people fluently knew the language of the evaluator, so language was not a cultural issue. They were the same race as the evaluator, but yet, they were intimidated by the formal culture of the evaluation. They were unfamiliar with it, and downright uncomfortable. In the end, the evaluator got answers, but did she really see or get a full picture of their efforts?


The evaluator could have called ahead and asked me something as simple as, hey, who am I meeting with? And I would have told her very bright 19 year olds. If the evaluator would have called me and said where would they feel most comfortable talking to me? I would have said the campus coffee shop.


If she had asked me, what might be a cultural snag during our conversation? I would have told her that their references and expressions can usually be traced to some manga cartoon. Instead, not taking the time to ask culturally competent questions led to hindered communication, short answers, and no fluent conversations.


In the example, you'll note that there were office cultures that were not taken into account. There were also generational cultures not taken into account during this evaluation. To be culturally competent evaluators, we have to meet people where they're at. In doing so, we may find that cultural competence may help us decide how, when, and where we want to engage with each of the individuals we have to meet with.


Knowing how to engage may increase the level of openness, cooperation, and information that we're able to collect or not collect as an evaluator. So take the time, and consider the little details that cultural competence can entail. Speaking of little details, I told you I'd tell you about my name.


I go by Laurie, because it's a little detail I have found helpful. I understand my birth name of is not easily pronounced in English, since it was, like me, birthed outside of these United States. I've been told by people that I'm selling out when I do this, but I don't agree.


When it comes to conducting business, I've understood for years that something as small as a culturally different name can create a barrier in how people think they will or will not communicate with me, or how they think I can or cannot relate to what they're saying to me.


You may not have to change your name, but there is always something we can do as an evaluator to better connect with people involved in our evaluation. So remember these things, those who take time to meet with us when we conduct our evaluations should have the feeling that they are a collaborative partner whose contribution is meaningful to us.


Also, take the time to ask ahead of time of your evaluation a few meaningful questions, such as, who am I meeting with? Where would they feel most comfortable meeting with me? What might be a cultural snag between us? Stopping to ask these three little questions may help remind us to stay active in our search to be culturally competent.


Finally, knowing how to engage may increase the level of openness, cooperation, and information that we're able to collect or not collect as an evaluator. And that's information that can give you more accurate results. This is or Laurie, saying thanks for listening to Elevate Evaluate, and encouraging you to stay culturally competent.

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