Exploration of Indigenous Methods Enhance Evaluations

As a member of the Evaluation Hui and the principal investigator of two federal grants funded through the Native Hawaiian Education Program, CRDG’s Morris Lai is making a significant contribution to the development of indigenous methods of evaluation that honor and respect the world views of the target communities. Lai focuses on approaches to evaluation and on evaluator-program relationships that encompass respect, trust, honor, and responsibility, all essential elements when considering culturally appropriate evaluations in Native Hawaiian and other indigenous communities. Recently he has expanded his work to incorporate ideas from the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights, an approach he finds useful because the declaration asserts that indigenous peoples have rights that are in conflict with the usual Western way of doing or viewing things. This leads to the idea that indigenous peoples have the right to develop their own methods of evaluation, including those not typically considered in traditional Western or academic methods. These divergent methods include the credibility of oral testimony or the testimony of elders that may not be cited in published documents or corroborated by other sources as well as the idea that spiritual or other types of behaviors may be just as valid as, or even more valid than, “hard” data in understanding the outcomes of a project. He is exploring ways to make evaluations more closely aligned both culturally and linguistically with the communities a project is meant to serve.

Along with his work on the evaluation of projects involving indigenous peoples, Lai is increasingly supporting Hawaiian doctoral students as a mentor and advisor. The University of Hawai‘i has as one of its long-term goals “actively preserving and perpetuating Hawaiian culture, language, and values,” and the Mānoa campus has as one of its imperatives to “support advanced research and scholarship on Hawaiian language and culture.” And yet, the current group of Hawaiian doctoral students are hampered in their work by a paucity of faculty who can read and advise them on their dissertations written entirely or partially in Hawaiian. While he notes that this task has become very time-consuming, Lai feels a responsibility, as someone who can make a contribution in this area, to help as many as he can.