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Cultural Competence in Evaluation


Matthew Bonachea

>> Hello, my name is Matthew Bonachea and I'm a graduate student in the School of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida, studying for my master's in emergency and crisis management. A little bit about me, I also completed my undergraduate work at UCF where I earned my Bachelor of Science in interdisciplinary studies with a focus in health, life, and biomedical sciences and a minor in emergency management and homeland security.


I currently work as the GA for Student Conduct and Care with Housing aand Residence Life at UCF. And I've had the fantastic opportunity to work with a very diverse population of students throughout my assistantship. Today I'm excited to be talking about cultural competency and why it is so important in public program evaluation.


Aside from working as an evaluator, cultural competence is such an important skill to possess as almost everything is culturally influenced to some extent. With respect to evaluations, I think it is impossible to understand the purpose, scope, and impact of a program if you cannot understand the cultural issues impacting a population of the program services.


Let's take a moment to think about Western culture and what we have come to find as normal. For example, families. In the US, it is typical for a child to move out between 18 in their early 20s, never to move back home. Once all of the children have left the home, the parents tend to live alone until they transition to some form of senior living facility.


It's not very common for parents to live with their adult children and potentially their grandchildren. However, in many other cultures, this is not only typical, but it is sometimes expected. Now let's design a hypothetical public program that aims to reduce childhood obesity in a community where it is typical to have three generations living together.


Part of the program is outreach and education to the grandparents who may be at home with the children for much of the day regarding what a healthy diet for children looks like. Without understanding the cultural traditions at play of these multi-generational homes, an evaluator may find that perhaps it would increase positive outcomes to provide the outreach and education to the parents rather than the grandparents.


As in American culture, the parents should be taking care of the child and not the grandparents, right? So how can we avoid this? How can we as future practitioners look through the lens of a cultural practice that we might not even be aware is taking place. In my opinion, this begins with asking questions and keeping an open mind.


In the example I gave, it would have been so important to ask why is the intervention being delivered to the grandparents rather than the parents? As an external evaluator, those running the program are the experts. I believe that you can learn a lot about the population the program services by just asking questions to the right people.


This is a good time to utilize both formal and informal sources of information. For example, reading journal articles and research papers is helpful to understand the culture, but it is just as important to get that information informally through interacting with individuals within that culture. On the other hand, you can also research the demographic the program services.


If the program is geography bound, you can use census data or you may ask for demographic information about the program's participants from the program coordinators. Once you're aware of demographic that's being serviced and the demographic of the surrounding community, you can begin to learn about their cultures. So far we've only discussed programs that are designed to serve a particular group.


But what about if the program is just serving a population intersectional of cultural identities. Another important aspect of cultural competence is the ability to see which cultural groups are being under serviced by certain programs. Without understanding or even considering the existence of cultural groups outside of our understanding, we rob ourselves of the ability to adequately identify populations that are being under served by programs.


In 2004 Sangupta et al wrote that one's culture impacts the way that one conceptualizes a social problem. As an evaluator, this is important to consider as different cultural perspectives may have very different views on a particular social problem or perhaps even consider the problem to not be one at all.


One prime example of this is the recent movement by a Muslim woman to preserve wearing headscarves as a cultural symbol and dismissing the claims of some Neo-feminists stating that wearing a headscarf is oppressive. In this example, we can see how some make the mistake of only looking through the lens of their own culture without consideration for others when determining what is and what isn't a problem.


Instead, one should listen to the community and use the information they learn to make an informed decision on how a program can best service that population to meet the program's goal. Without asking questions or listening to those of a particular culture, we're taking away that culture's voice regarding what they would like to see out of the public programs in their community.


Overall, program evaluation is a powerful tool to better our communities by ensuring that programs designed to help the community do so both efficiently and effectively. Across public administration including evaluation and what I am studying in emergency and crisis management, acting with cultural competence helps decrease those who are left behind or otherwise frequently forgotten.


Cultural competence supports equity by helping to promote access to programs and services in ways that may not have been thought of before and takes a step beyond equal access to ensure equitable access. Where that extra mile is taken to reduce any cultural barriers to accessing public programs and services.


Let's take a moment to look at this in a little bit more depth. What does it mean to create equitable access rather than equal access? We can consider a program that operates with a primary intervention being presentations that are open to all members of the public on Friday nights.


This is a great example of equal access, anyone has the opportunity to attend the presentation. However, this particular community has a large Jewish population which is unable to attend these presentations as they take place during Sabbath. Let's also consider that some may not be able to make it to the presentations as public transportation does not run after the program, so they would not have a way to get home.


The equality we found earlier, where anyone can attend the presentations, is starting to look less and less equal now. The process of overcoming these barriers would establish equity in the program, not just equality. Examples of improvements that could make this program equitable would include presentations during another week night for the Jewish community to have access to attending.


And offering daytime programs for those who do not have private transportation. Or perhaps extending bus service on Friday nights to accommodate for the presentations. This example highlights the difference between equity and equality. Equality is where everyone has access to the same things, but equity is where potential barriers to access that someone cannot control are accommodated for.


Today, we talked a lot about cultural competence. So how do you get it? Unfortunately cultural competence is not just something you can learn and master. It is a skill that must be practiced daily, but it all starts with being aware. Take some time to identify your cultural biases and any other blind spots you could think of.


In your work, take the time to ask yourself, am I missing something when it comes to working with cultures other than your own? If you take away anything from this podcast episode try to think of these three things in the future. One, ask questions. Asking questions will help you fill in the gaps where you may not have fully understood something.


Two, check your blind spots. We all have moments where we think we have successfully covered all of our bases. Check yourself and use the research you have collected and the questions you have asked to reduce or eliminate these blind spots. And finally, three, take on the responsibility. You don't have to be a social justice expert or frequently work with disenfranchised populations to take responsibility for your role in promoting not just equal, but equitable access to the public programs and services in the communities you serve.

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