Coactive Change is a woman- and Black-owned consulting firm that partners with change agents seeking to produce social justice change and dismantle systems of oppression. We refer to change agents in an intentionally broad way, which for us includes but is not limited to nonprofits, community and state coalitions, collaboratives, and task forces, grassroots organizations, and community organizers. We believe in the power of collective knowledge and collaboration between people with diverse lived experience and expertise to achieve our collective liberation. This belief grounds our decisions about who to partner with and the types of work we engage in. Our services include thought partnership, facilitation, and strategy; evaluation capacity building; and collaborative and participatory evaluation—all fusing our experience in organizing, coalition building, sociocultural anthropology, ethnography, and evaluation.
What is Evaluation and What Does it Have to do with Power?
According to the American Evaluation Association, a large professional association for evaluators with members within and outside of the United States, evaluation “is a systematic process to determine merit, worth, value, or significance”. This definition makes it clear that evaluation represents a way of valuing and producing knowledge and claims about what is and is not true that can wield a great deal of power.
The very act of collecting and interpreting data, which is not limited to evaluators—but includes an array of researchers, scientists, and other groups who use research methods—requires that we make decisions about what counts (i.e., who we interview or survey and what frames we use to interpret data) and what doesn’t count (i.e., who is not at the proverbial table making decisions about designing and conducting evaluations). Historically and predominantly today, the focus of evaluation and research—families, youth, community members, nonprofit program participants, and so on—have no or little say in evaluation and research designs, questions, and activities. This is deeply problematic because evaluation and research findings and recommendations directly impact these groups via decision making within and across foundations, nonprofits, and other institutions. These decisions inform how and where funding is allocated, and perceptions of and knowledge about community members, frontline workers, and other change agents who engage in direct services, community organizing, advocacy, political education, and more.
Chicago Beyond recognizes the profound power and influence that is wielded through evaluation and research projects and asserts:
Approaches to reflection, learning, and evaluation that fail to involve those whose lives are impacted by evaluation practices and findings — and the systems of oppression we are trying to dismantle — are inherently inequitable.
For this reason, we are committed to centering your lived experiences and the communities you work with throughout our work together. We acknowledge that we have a long way to go towards dismantling white supremacy, racial capitalism, and all intersecting systems of oppression, including oppressive structures within evaluation. If you choose to work with us, we commit to engaging in these critical conversations with you, fostering space for reflection and growth, and challenging you and ourselves to interrogate how our work can both reinforce and combat structural violence.