ACE Evaluation Network Member Highlight: Carlos Romero
With 105 Evaluators and growing in the Network, we are highlighting an ACE Evaluation Network Member each month to share their experiences and current projects with the ETB® community.
Advancing Culturally-responsive and Equitable (ACE) Evaluation Network Member Carlos Romero, MBA leads Apex Evaluation in Albuquerque, New Mexico with a team of systems evaluators. He works with health, education, and social programs that address the wicked problems of inequity. He and his team ascribe and aspire to Equitable Evaluation (EE) which the Center for Evaluation Innovation defines as “using evaluation as a tool for advancing equity and involves diversity of teams, cultural appropriateness and validity of methods, revealing drivers of inequity, empowering those more affected to shape and own how evaluation happens.”
What first attracted you to the ACE Evaluation Network?
I was honored to be accepted to the ACE Network in one of the first cohorts in 2018. It was a season in my life when I was finding my voice about who I was, what I believed, and what I wanted to do both personally and professionally. I was fresh out of the closet and becoming active in the American Evaluation Association (AEA) LGBT Topical Interest Group. I was finally able to bring my full self to the work. In 2019, I was invited to the Evaluation Roundtable convening hosted by the Center for Evaluation Innovation where I learned about the current state of philanthropic evaluation. I was drawn to the vision of equitable evaluation and compelled by its principles and framework. The philanthropic orthodoxies resonated with me and helped explain a disastrous experience I had working with a large foundation. I was all in, participating in anything and everything I could related to equitable evaluation. During this time, I had also been working intensively with Derek and Laura Cabrera — leaders in the field of systems thinking from Cornell University. I finally found a model of systems thinking that was simple enough for me to grasp and actionable enough to use in practice. Turns out I had been a pretty good systems thinker this whole time and our evaluation approach and portfolio had always been rooted in equity. Systems thinking and equitable evaluation offered a language to validate my instincts, deepen my understanding, and guide my work.
What do you value most about the ACE Evaluation Network?
I was growing frustrated with the gap between the rhetoric and reality of both systems thinking and equitable evaluation. To this day, I feel like both movements are in danger of becoming what they are against. In the Network I found a community of Evaluators (and Funders) who shared similar lived and professional experiences including my frustrations — and they were intent on doing something about it. I appreciate the care and intentionality that Change Matrix has shown in cultivating and supporting this diverse group of professionals. I value the collaborative spirit and creative energy I find in the Network. Across its various activities, the Network is a safe space to learn new things, ask questions, hear and pitch new ideas, vent, and sometimes just hang out and enjoy a sense of belonging. I’m particularly fond of the Coffee Breaks and think they are an effective way to build relationships between Funders and Evaluators.
What’s a current project you are working on?
My goal for 2023 is to operationalize a mission for equitable evaluation that I began to articulate in two AEA 365 blog posts I wrote in 2022. I’m calling it the Systems Learning Studio and it encompasses both practice and business aspects of evaluation, optimizing each for equity and learning. I am working on a pitch to invite funders to pilot a new model of evaluation that addresses the ‘systems-power’ dilemma that I call out in my blogs. I think it is worthy of investment as a field-building initiative. I’m also extending an open invitation for collaboration to help evolve these ideas to better activate our individual and collective positionalities. Reach out if you are interested!