Culturally Responsive Evaluation In Informal STEM Environments And Settings


November 9th, 2015

Culture influences all aspects of our lives, from our interactions with friends and family, to our actions and perspectives at work, to our perspectives of others. Culturally responsive evaluation acknowledges that we all are affected by culture and that we have biases and assumptions that we bring with us when working with stakeholders and audiences. Culture is not viewed as negative, or to be removed when enacting culturally responsive practices, rather these practices ask us to honestly examine ourselves and how who we are influences the programs we design, the evaluation questions we ask, how we ask them, the audiences we approach, and the audiences that participate in ISE programs and evaluation studies.

When we think we are being truly objective, we may not be as all evaluative judgements are grounded in culture. In the words of the American Evaluation Association, “Evaluations cannot be culture free.” The influence of culture is ever-present, multi-dimensional, and shapes the evaluation process from start (evaluation questions and plan) to finish (data interpretation and report dissemination). To know yourself, and know your audiences in a way that is genuine and wholehearted, is a distilled version of a recommendation found in many evaluation resources; to sincerely reflect on one’s own cultural perspectives, and to acknowledge and be open to the cultural perspectives of others.

Why practice culturally responsive evaluation? In short it is ethical, and supports the validity of an evaluation. Culturally responsive evaluation ensures the incorporation of multiple voices and perspectives, and thus a more accurate representation of a population. By asking to reflect on the cultural perspectives of the evaluation team, and the audiences being evaluated, the work produced is honest, accurate, respectful, and considerate (see AEA Public Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation). Culturally responsive evaluation is also inclusive and welcoming, fitting with the ISE field’s endeavors to reach multiple audiences.

The following table developed by Cheryl Chang for Issue 7: Learning and Evaluation for the Grant Managers Network online journal GMNsight is one way to view differences between traditional evaluation, and culturally responsive evaluation (Issue 7 article titled, “Learning with Diverse Communities Through Culturally Responsive Evaluation”).


What can you do to practice and think about Culturally Responsive Evaluation?
The American Evaluation Association (AEA) Public Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation lists five essential practices for cultural competence.

  • Acknowledge the complexity of cultural identity. Culturally competent evaluators recognize, respond to, and work to reconcile differences between and within cultures and subcultures.
  • Recognize the dynamics of power. Culturally competent evaluators work to avoid reinforcing cultural stereotypes and prejudice in their work.
  • Recognize and eliminate bias in social relations. Culturally competence evaluators are thoughtful and deliberate in their use of language and other social relations in order to reduce bias when conducting evaluations.
  • Employ culturally congruent epistemologies, theories, and methods. Culturally competent evaluators seek to understand how the constructs are defined by cultures and are aware of the many ways epistemologies and theories can be utilized, how data can be collected, analyzed and interpreted, and the diversity of context in which findings can be disseminated.
  • Continue self-assessments. Regularly monitor the extent to which you can serve as an open, responsive instrument given relevant attributes of an evaluation context.

If you are curious to see how current ISE projects use culturally responsive evaluation, or use culturally responsive approaches, please click on the following project descriptions on

OMSI REVEAL: Research the Value of Educator Actions on Learning (REVEAL) aims to better understand facilitating informal family math learning, and better understand how museum educators can foster engagement in math thinking.The project has an emphasis on culturally responsive research and education approaches.

Ciencia Publica: Co-Creating Public Outdoor Learning Spaces with Latino Communities is a collaboration between the Boys and Girls Club (BGC) Columbia Park in the Mission District of San Francisco and the Exploratorium. Through program and exhibit co-development, community members, the BGC, and the Exploratorium will transform urban places into Spanish/English bilingual informal STEM environments.

Making Connections:Exploring Culturally-Relevant Maker Experiences through an Iterative, Cross-Institutional Approach is research conducted by Science Museum of Minnesota with Twin Cities’ communities examines how community engagement techniques can be used to co-design and implement culturally-relevant marketing, activities, and events focused on Making that attract families from underrepresented audiences and ultimately engage them in meaningful informal STEM learning

The National Center for Blind Youth in Science increases informal learning opportunities for blind youth in STEM, and confronts a critical area of need in STEM education: the underrepresentation of people with disabilities in STEM. Educators are often unaware of methods to deliver STEM concepts to blind youth, and youth do not have the experience with which to advocate for accommodations. The initiative is a unique opportunity for science centers and the disability population to collaborate for mutual benefit, with lasting implications for the informal STEM field.

Also some past projects that used culturally responsive evaluation or used culturally responsive approaches that can be found on the website are:

BERI: The Bilingual Exhibits Research Initiative investigated Spanish/English bilingual exhibits by examining the knowledge, beliefs, and practices of professionals involved in creating bilingual exhibits, and understanding Spanish-speaking Latinos’ use of, and perspectives on bilingual exhibits for informal science learning.

Beyond Earth: Weaving Science and Indigenous Culture incorporated Native and Western ways of knowing physical, earth and space sciences. The project designed a culturally responsive curriculum module, and evaluated understanding of core concepts of science in a culturally responsive environment.

Urban Science for the Hip-Hop Generation: The Documentary is a short video that provides an overview of a research program led by Chris Emdin of Teacher’s College in NYC. The science program built on students’ cultural and personal resources to engage students in STEM learning from a position of familiarity and strength, and it is an example of culturally responsive pedagogy and making STEM culturally relevant.

Communities of Effective Practice developed a professional development model for supporting math and science instructional practices that are culturally responsive within American Indian communities. The evaluation report summarizes findings and presents key considerations for developing a Community Advisory Panel, providing teacher professional development, and engaging parents in schools that serve American Indian students.

To dive deeper into what the evaluation field has written about culturally responsive evaluation, peruse the following external resources.