We do a lot of listening in our work at DeYoung Consulting Services. We are called in to organizations that are experiencing some kind of pain or tension. We ask a lot of questions, and we listen to staff, managers, leaders, partners, and community members through focus groups, interviews, listening sessions, and surveys.
We end up with a lot of insights and stories (qualitative data) that inform our work.
We are asked to wear the hats of researcher, evaluator, and reporter. This means that it is also essential that we “wear” an equity lens as we are listening to and interpreting all the stories we hear. Many clients ask us to listen to what is being said regarding racial equity, cultural responsiveness, and diversity and inclusion in the workplace or in their community facing services. But even if these topics were not part of our listening process, an equity lens still matters.
How do you wear an equity lens while analyzing qualitative data?
First, I think it’s important to share why this is important in the first place. As evaluators, consultants, and data analysts, we are expected to be “neutral,” “objective,” and “perspectiveless.” We can all admit that achieving that completely is virtually impossible. All of us wear cultural lenses all day long; it is within these lenses that stories and experiences shared by Black, Indigenous and People of Color have historically been undervalued and been overlaid with a Eurocentric narrative that goes unchallenged by many.
“The researcher considering data in the abstract, devoid of context, will inexorably supply a setting of her own.”(Graham. L, in “Critical Race Theory as Theoretical Framework and Analysis Tool for Population Health Research.”)
Thankfully, many academic researchers and theorists have written about this topic. For example, Critical Race Theory provides us with an excellent foundation for understanding what it would look like if the experiences of historically marginalized communities were heard and reported in such a way that painted a realistic, full, and participatory picture.
But when we looked around for a tool that might provide a standard for practitioners like us who want to apply an equity lens to qualitative analysis, we couldn’t find one. So, we created one.
One example of what our tool does is to emphasize using narrative as a medium for describing your data, which is valuable precisely because it’s dense and detailed, not clean and tied up with a pretty bow. A second example is to honor the language used by participants, as opposed to rephrasing it with words you think are more fitting or descriptive. While the context of the research we review is typically race and gender, we think our tool can be applied to stories shared from the LGBTQ+ community and other “under-heard” communities.
I recently had the opportunity to put our tool to the test while I was analyzing interview data for one of our clients. When I was trying to fit one person’s idea snugly into another person’s idea, I was surprised at how often I tried to sum up participants’ words in my own language. I would check myself, and each time I realized it was actually a much easier task to just use their own words. Also, I followed a process in which I coded virtually everything (coding is a step in our analysis process in which we label people’s comments or complete thoughts), which allowed a full and unapologetic narrative to emerge.
Our hope is that this tool is useful not only to evaluators and consultants, but to organizations that plan to engage their communities or their staff around the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion.