Authentic Engagement


teacher and students touching tree trunk field trip

Authentic engagement taps into the strengths and wisdom of all who are engaged in programs, directly and indirectly. The NAAEE Community Engagement Guidelines remind us that authentic engagement is oriented toward collaboration, inclusion, capacity building, and civic action, contributing to healthier communities and more equitable outcomes for all. 

In practice, authentic engagement means being your authentic self and creating spaces for others to do the same. The goal is to build genuine relationships that allow multiple voices to be included in meaningful ways.

eeVAL benefits from informed, sustained engagement by individuals, groups, and communities. Evaluators can work with the program participants and community members (directly or indirectly impacted by the program) to identify evaluation goals (short and long-term) and appropriate engagement techniques. Evaluators can work with the community partners they identified to determine achievable actions and program policy changes arising from evaluation findings. Engaging program participants and community members promotes a sense of responsibility and willingness to act on the evaluation findings.

Given their day-to-day demands, practitioners and evaluators will not be able to collaborate with every person, but they can engage a few key voices deeply in the evaluation process. Funders can build capacity for authentic engagement by supporting evaluation strategies that cultivate the equitable involvement of program participants and local community members. Equitable involvement means setting aside sufficient resources and time, as well as using community-centered systems.

Every evaluation can achieve some level of authentic engagement.

Reflect on Your Practice

  • How does your evaluation engage with people who are directly and indirectly affected by your program, such as program providers, participants, members of the community being served, supervisors, funders?
  • How does your evaluation engage program participants, partners, and others as team members, designers, decision-makers, and implementers of the evaluation?
  • How well does your evaluation mirror the norms in the community, such as pace of work, respecting formal or informal hierarchies, and methods of communicating?

Key Terms

Community Engagement

Joining forces with diverse partners to forge common purposes and to collaborate toward shared outcomes is rooted in the community’s interests, issues, and capacities. To work in situations or on issues that may be outside the typical conception of the program and to include people who may not be reached by traditional efforts. It is broader and deeper involvement among community members, expanding their role from “participants” to “co-creators.” At the same time, community and educational organizations may see their role broaden from “service provider” to “partner.” (NAAEE Community Engagement Guidelines for Excellence, 2017)

Humility (See also cultural humility)

A process of self-reflection to better understand personal and systemic biases and to develop and maintain respectful processes and relationships. Humility counters the concept of "competency," which suggests the mastery of knowledge or skills. Humility implies continuous growth (The University of British Columbia, n.d.).


Authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities and decision/policy making in a way that shares power (Racial Equity Tools, 2020).


Visit the NAAEE Community Engagement Guidelines for Excellence to learn about creating inclusive environments that support effective partnerships and collaborations that can support eeVAL evaluations.

Explore the Other Values

The Core Values

The eeVAL framework is guided by six core values, which were co-created by a community of EE practitioners, evaluators, funders, and academics. 

About the core values 

Equity in Motion

Use equitable evaluation policies and practices to contribute to just outcomes.

Deep Curiosity

Use multiple perspectives and methods that are responsive to local cultures, histories, and traditions.

About Deep Curiosity 

Ongoing Journey

Support continuous growth, examine assumptions, and celebrate ideas at both the individual and organizational levels.

Quality Redefined

Balance the technical mechanics with the socio-political and ethical considerations that impact individuals and communities.

About Quality redefined

Shared Learning

Allow for learning to be shared beyond organizations and networks to convey the multitude of evaluation processes, stories, and impacts, and to benefit the field broadly.

About shared learning