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Volume 48 Number 3
Edited by Olya Glantsman
At the Intersection of Community Psychology and Evaluation: AEA Community Psychology Topical Interest Group (TIG)
Written by Tara Gregory (firstname.lastname@example.org), Wichita State University, AEA Community Psychology Topical Interest Group Leadership Council
What do community psychology and evaluation have in common? The short, technical answer is the American Evaluation Association’s Community Psychology Topical Interest Group (AEA CP TIG for…um…shorter). This very long name reflects a place where people who identify both with the values and practices of community psychology and evaluation come together to share ideas, knowledge, and experiences for the good of partners and each discipline. There is also a much longer answer that involves competencies, values, and relationships, but I'll get to the more complicated answer in a paragraph or two.
The AEA CP TIG was formed in 2011 and joined over 50 other topical interest groups that include such areas as independent consulting; youth focused-evaluation; quantitative and qualitative methods; feminist issues; and collaborative, participatory, and empowerment evaluation to name just a few. As articulated by Sheldon and Wolfe (2014) in a special section on community psychology in the American Journal of Evaluation, the four main reasons for establishing the CP TIG were: 1) to introduce community psychology to “an audience known more for its methodological than values focus” (p. 86), 2) many evaluators currently incorporate community psychology values into their work but may be unaware of the connection, 3) conversely, many evaluations could benefit from the use of community psychology values, and 4) to provide a “home” for the many practitioners within AEA who also identify as community psychologists.
CP TIG programming began in 2012 and since then has included coordination of a well-populated and diverse community psychology track at the annual AEA Conference, semi-annual community psychology weeks on the popular AEA 365 Tip-A-Day blog, maintenance of a webpage (http://comm.eval.org/CommunityPsychology/Home/), and other activities to promote the connection between community psychology and evaluation. A highlight of the work done by the CP TIG is the “Walk the Talk” session held at each AEA Annual Conference since 2013. This session embodies the spirit of community psychology in that it allows conference attendees an opportunity to engage with the community in which the conference is held through a visit to a local social action organization. During the Walk the Talk sessions, participants discuss evaluation approaches and challenges with organization staff in order to both learn from and contribute to those who are making a difference in their communities. At the conference in Washington D.C. in 2013, the Walk the Talk session visited the One DC organization, which focuses on neighborhood equity through education, community organizing and alternative economic development projects (“One DC” n.d.). The Walk the Talk session in Denver in 2014 featured the Women’s Bean Project, the mission of which is “to change women’s lives by providing stepping stones to self-sufficiency through social enterprise” (“Women’s Bean Project” 2015).
The CP TIG embraces practitioners from any discipline who are invested in using evaluation to contribute to social justice, community engagement, and/or participatory approaches to improve communities, and, by extension, the lives of the people within them. Additionally, the CP TIG is a place for practitioners of any level of experience - from students who are just learning about community psychology and evaluation to seasoned professionals, many of whom are the preeminent leaders in their fields. The CP TIG includes members who identify as independent consultants as well as those who practice within universities, governmental organizations, or non-profits, among many other entities. This broad base and openness to all interested persons helps the CP TIG maintain a strong connection to the principles that are shared between community psychology and evaluation.
As I noted in the first paragraph, there is a much more involved answer as to what community psychology and evaluation have in common beyond sharing some of the same dedicated and highly skilled people. First, when one compares the list of competencies and principles for community psychology practice with that for evaluation, there are a number of striking similarities. The foundational competencies/principles of community psychology practice, as articulated by Dalton and Wolfe (2012) are:
1. Ecological perspective
3. Sociocultural and cross-cultural competence
4. Community inclusion and partnership
5. Ethical, reflective practice
Additionally, there are 13 other competencies with the 18th being program evaluation, which is articulated as, “The ability to partner with community/setting leaders and members to promote program improvement and program accountability to stakeholders and funders.” (p. 13).
The AEA Guiding Principles for Evaluators (AEA, 2004) encompass values that are inherent in community psychology, especially given the focus on community research and action. The AEA guiding principles are:
1. Systemic inquiry
4. Respect for people
5. Responsibilities for general and public welfare
As noted by Sheldon and Wolfe (2014), the principles for evaluators tend to focus more on methodology than do those for community psychology practice, but it is not hard to see that both reflect a strong orientation toward ethical implementation of practices that contribute to the good of those we serve as community psychologists and/or evaluators. It is these shared values that bind community psychology and evaluation.
Secondly, the connection between community psychology and evaluation is becoming more relevant as new methodologies emerge or existing methodologies become more popular that focus on documenting processes and outcomes in highly complex community initiatives and settings. Community psychologist practitioners are rarely blessed with straightforward projects in which step A leads to step B and so on…which ultimately leads to outcome Z. Approaches such as developmental evaluation, empowerment and participatory approaches, appreciative inquiry, social network analysis, and systems evaluation address many of the types of issues and settings in which community psychologists often work. Many of those who use these methods identify as community psychologists and contribute greatly to the growth of both fields with their ideas and experiences.
As noted in SCRA’s “What is Community Psychology” handout, “Community Psychologists go beyond an individual focus and integrate social, cultural, economic, political, environmental, and international influences to promote positive change, health, and empowerment at individual and systemic levels.” This eloquent description fits many evaluators as well. While many community psychologists may not realize they are evaluators, and likewise many evaluators may not recognize themselves as community psychologists, the intersection between the two fields is rich in knowledge, creativity, and passion for supporting individual, community, and societal health and well-being. As evaluators who identify as community psychologists or community psychologists who do evaluation, we inhabit the “sweet spot” of a Venn diagram that represents the bridge between research and practice (see Figure 1). The CP TIG exists to expand the recognition of our shared space as well as promote the value inherent in this type of community. Join us in our efforts to ensure the intersection of community psychology and evaluation isn’t merely a space we share momentarily, but one in which we use our best affinities for the good of both fields and, ultimately, our communities. And really, what's more reflective of community psychology than that?
Figure 1. Brief list of characteristics at the intersection of community psychology and evaluation.
To find out more about AEA and the Community Psychology Topical Interest Group, go to www.eval.org.
Dalton, J., & Wolfe, S. (2012). Education Connection and The Community Practitioner. The Community
Psychologist: A Publication of the Society for Community Research and Action, 45(4). 7-14.
Sheldon, J., & Wolfe, S. (2014). The Community Psychology Evaluation Nexus. American Journal of Evaluation,
61(1), 86-117. doi:10.1177/1098214014558503
TIG Home - CommunityPsychology. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://comm.eval.org/CommunityPsychology/Home/
ONE DC. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.onedconline.org/
What is Community Psychology. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Women's Bean Project | where a woman earns her future. (2015). Retrieved from
Figure 2. Walk the Talk session at One DC (photo courtesy of Susan Wolfe).
Figure 3. Walk the Talk session at the Women’s Bean Project (photo courtesy of Natalie Wilkins).