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NEC Spotlight December 10th, 2023
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Language Inclusiveness in Evaluation

Posted by on April 19th, 2022 Posted in: Thought Leadership

April is National Minority Health Month, and this is an excellent opportunity to think about mechanisms to strengthen inclusion and diversity in our evaluation practices across the NNLM. Language matters: it is the means to communicate with one another, how we learn about the world, how we express and structure our own needs, preferences, emotions, thoughts, etc. It is a powerful tool that can simultaneously be used for integration or to perpetuate exclusion; in short, language shapes peoples and cultures. [1]

As evaluators we are always searching for guidelines and best practices that can help us improve our interactions with the communities we serve. With this impetus in mind, here we present a few helpful resources to increase our collective mindfulness and reduce the likelihood of inadvertently harming others. Here is a short explanation about the negative connotation of a very often used term in evaluation to refer to decisionmakers or intended users within our network and here are two useful general guidelines: the CDC’s Health Equity Style Guide for COVID-19 Response. and the UN’s Gender-inclusive guidelines.

It is important to bear in mind that language is dynamic, constantly evolving and context-driven. Perhaps a good starting point is to commit to be continuously adapting our vocabulary, be flexible to remove outdated terms and replace them with preferred terms and strive to always integrate language justice in your evaluation practices. [2]

In terms of our network resources, please refer to the work done at the Cultural Humility Advisory Team (CHAT) or ask for a consultation with the NEC Capacity and Community Building Core.


[1] Alex Shashkevich, “The Power of Language: how words shape people, culture”,  August 22, 2019, available at https://news.stanford.edu/2019/08/22/the-power-of-language-how-words-shape-people-culture/

[2] Ghanbarpour, S., Noguez Mercado, A. P., & Palotai, A. (2020). A language justice framework for culturally responsive and equitable evaluation. In L. C. Neubauer, D. McBride, A. D. Guajardo,W. D. Casillas,&M. E. Hall (Eds.), Examining Issues Facing Communities of Color Today: The Role of Evaluation to Incite Change. New Directions for Evaluation, 166, 37–47.

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This project is funded by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health (NIH) under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012343 with the University of Washington.

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