The Spirituality of Evaluation

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I was asked by a former professor of mine to come and speak to the UH Mānoa Ed.D. cohort 3 on indigenous evaluation. It was really to provide some feedback on their own growing understandings based on a scenario they were given on a mental health project in Hawaiʻi.

These doctoral candidates are mostly local and about half of them are native Hawaiian so they really understood the idea of native control of native research, kuleana, understanding the community and asking permission as well as input and feedback from the community.

One of the big ahas that came out of the group was the idea that even if you are a native researcher, it is not about chasing the money. Ask yourself if the intentions of the researchers sit right with your own naʻau, your gut. Also ask yourself if you are the right person to bring this evaluation forward. Are the right people at the table?

That led to a discussion on how do you know the right people are at the table? What I wanted to talk about was the power of letting go as a way to know if the right people are at the table.

In my work, I have found that I increasingly rely on the methodology of “letting go” meaning I plan, create foundations, but then there is a point where I need to evaluate the “Pono”ness the right-ness of my moving forward by letting go. This is about talking to people involved about what I am trying to do, putting it out into the universe and then waiting for hoʻailona or signs.

I tell the story of my needing participants in my dissertation project and not being able to answer my committee as far as my n=. My answer to the committee was that I was going to personally talk story with as many teachers as possible, I went to conferences, opened it up, but that the teachers that stepped forward were the teachers that were meant to step forward. I then gave my committee a random number (10) and they let me go. I didn’t end up getting 10, but each of the teachers that stepped forward were supposed to be there and proved that in many ways throughout the project.

Another story is about finding my kupuna, or elders to become mentors in the program. When I sought out specific elders, I found that things were not working out. Once, there was an elder that I really wanted. She is a famous musician from one of the last remote fishing villages in Hawaiʻi. I happened to see her at my OB/GYN. I did not personally know her, but I whispered to my husband, “look it’s Aunty D. Do you think I should go up to her and ask if she can be part of my project this summer?” My husband was aghast and told me to not do that in this place. I let it go but I still saved a spot for her in my agenda.

About a month before my project was going to start, I see on my roster of participants a name that I know is connected to Aunty D. I email this teacher, talk about what we will be doing in the summer and casually ask if she thinks Aunty D might be able to come talk/sing/spend time with us this summer. The teacher says sure, I will ask and I quickly got a reply that Aunty D will show up. Again, the right people at the right time show up when I just trust that there are forces outside of myself that will help me if what I am doing is pono.

The last story, another kupuna story came one and a half weeks before the start of the project. Of course I had already committed to going to an educational conference on the continent so although the timing was not ideal, it was part of my job so I am on an airplane, last row, middle in front of the galley and I am in the middle of three seats. Not ideal for a 9 hour plane ride. I also still have one day open without a kupuna for my project. A women sits next to me with her blanket, pillow, large bag. I look at her and recognize her from work. Although we work at the same place, we are on different campuses so I have not seen her in a while. It takes me about half an hour to get my nerve up, but I know that her mama is a very knowledgeable kupuna of another community in Hawaiʻi and that both of them are cultural practitioners, so I talk to her about my project and ask if she is willing to take us through Puna to share their moʻolelo (stories) and maybe we might hang out at her mama’s house in the middle of the lava fields. She says yes, she would like to share her community moʻolelo and have us come to their house to spend the day but she only has one day available because they are traveling again. Of course it was the only day that I had an opening.

I have many of these stories in my own research as well as my work in evaluation. This letting go is what I call the spirituality of evaluation. I find that Indigenous time has nothing to do with time. It has to do with timing and the “faith” to wait for the right timing. It also has to do with a belief that the people that you have contact with are meant to be with you at that particular time for a specific reason.  In Hawaiian thought, it means when the student is ready, the teacher will come.

Austin Kleon wrote about something similar in his post “Ideas in cars, honking”


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