This month, many individuals are seeking ways to be better allies by upholding and protecting the rights and dignity of friends, family members, and colleagues. But what does it mean for an organization to be an ally?

As we honor Pride Month at EnCompass, we have been reflecting on how our work supports dignity, security, rights, and inclusive human development. One recent example stands out.

EnCompass has been working with the Global Equality Fund, a multi-country, multi-donor effort that empowers civil society organizations and human rights defenders to protect and advance the fundamental human rights of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and/or queer (LGBTIQ).

As the evaluator of this program, part of our aim is to help the Global Equality Fund understand how effective its portfolio has been in supporting LGBTIQ human rights defenders to do their work, particularly in places where it is not easy to live as an LGBTIQ person. EnCompass’ appreciative, participant-centered, and utilization-focused evaluation approaches proved invaluable for this work.

For this evaluation, an essential consideration was that participants felt safe and in control. This required adjustments to our methodology in sample selection. Many LGBTIQ human rights defenders around the world live in social and political environments that are hostile to their work. Many live and work “underground” to avoid being targets of harassment, or worse. In some cases, it was not appropriate for the evaluators to initiate contact without an introduction, and we could not always know which modes of communication would be the most secure. Importantly, we wanted to avoid reaching out to people who were experiencing trauma at that moment, who might be unable to discuss the situation for a variety of reasons.

So, we adapted our approach to acknowledge the situation. Our client initiated contact to explain who we were and what we would be asking about. We knew that this would create a bias in the sample, but it was a worthwhile bias for our aims.

Once we made contact, we used appreciative evaluation, EnCompass’ signature evaluation approach for data collection. We needed to understand the challenges of our respondents’ human rights work, but we also knew that dwelling on traumas can be disempowering. With appreciative evaluation, our first questions encourage respondents to consider their successes. This approach helps establish a mindset of empowerment that acknowledges respondents’ agency in their own destinies. We could then explore the challenges in a context of possibility, asking about what could help them do their work better.

These methodological choices, enacted carefully with a focus on learning, helped generate rich, honest discussions and a wealth of information. Our client can use this information in adapting the portfolio to reach more people who need support to do their LGBTIQ human rights work.

For this evaluation—indeed, for all of our work with vulnerable groups or marginalized voices—being an ally means acknowledging the agency of partners and participants. We strive for humility in our work, “getting out of the way” so participants can imagine and build their own futures. That’s the definition of appreciative evaluation.

EnCompass’ work with the Global Equality Fund embodies some of our most important values and principles as an ally organization. We are honored to support this work.

Photo c/o Bo Nielsen via Creative Commons