Talking about Harm Reduction in Community-Based Evaluation and Research at the Truth be Told Annual Conference

July 27, 2023

At the Repair & Renew: Truth be Told 3rd Annual Conference, Elizabeth McGee, an esteemed scholar and advocate, delivered an insightful talk on reevaluating conventional evaluation methods and introducing a new structured methodology grounded in diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) principles. This talk aimed to foster a deeper understanding of the limits and harm caused by traditional evaluation practices. While proposing alternative methods that prioritize harm reduction and community-centered approaches.

The Need for Change: 

McGee commenced the talk by explaining the context that even progressive research methods, such as Participatory Action Research (PAR). Can unintentionally cause harm in the communities practitioners aim to serve. McGee shared the term data violence, a concept that describes the harm (or violence) that occurs. When our  research processes cause evaluation in the individuals, communities, or systems we intend to benefit. Despite advancements in various areas, social inequalities and intersecting oppressions persist (Lykes & Mallona, 2008). Recognizing the urgency to address these issues, the talk shared an approach to working carefully and strategically within a DEIJ-informed framework. Aiming to reduce harm and promote healing in underserved or systematically marginalized communities.

Introducing the Center for Radical Evaluation and Research (CRER): 

During the talk, participants learned about the recent launch of the Center for Radical Evaluation and Research (CRER) as a catalyst for change. Drawing from over 17 years of experience in conventional harm reduction evaluation methods. McGee and her team have observed how these methods often perpetuate harm, particularly within marginalized communities. Levitt et al. (2017) emphasize the importance of methodological integrity in striving toward social justice and transformation. Grounded in this principle, CRER utilizes a more complex and pluralistic research method that addresses the messy and intricate issues surrounding social injustice.

Identified Needs for Harm Reduction: 

Participants engaged in a dialogue surrounding the identified needs for harm reduction in truth-centered, participatory, community-engaged, applied evaluation work. These needs include:

  1. Acknowledge and identify harm in PAR practices and norms, as well as harm induced by work in communities at both the individual and systems levels and incorporate greater personal and structural accountability mechanisms to ensure participating individuals and communities do not experience harm. 
  2. Identify and center community-identified needs and fulfillment of these needs in PAR.
  3. Integrate DEIJ principles into PAR methodologies as a method to prevent and acknowledge harm and engage in restorative work where harm has transpired. This includes the integration of harm-reduction strategies and trauma-informed practices. 
  4. Acknowledge that leaving communities as we left them (i.e., status quo) unless otherwise requested by the community, may perpetuate existing inequities and should not be automatically classified as harm-neutral. 

Amplifying Marginalized Voices: 

The talk emphasized the importance of amplifying the voices of marginalized communities and providing them with a platform to express their truths, needs, and challenges. By sharing the story of starting CRER, participants understood that harm rooted in systemic inequities can be minimized by centering community members as the foremost experts of their own truths.

McGee’s talk on harm reduction in community-based evaluation and research at the Truth be Told Annual Conference offered an invaluable opportunity to reimagine evaluation approaches through a DEIJ lens. By critically examining conventional evaluation methods and proposing a new structured methodology, McGee and the participants contributed to reducing harm, promoting community-centered practices, and advancing social justice. The talk inspired attendees to create evaluation approaches that align with the principles of DEIJ, ultimately avoiding data violence and fostering positive change in our communities.


  • Burns, D. (2007). Systemic action research: A strategy for whole system change. Bristol, Great Britain: Policy Press.
  • Levitt, H. M., Motulsky, S. L., Wertz, F. J., Morrow, S. L., & Ponterotto, J. G. (2017). Recommendations for designing and reviewing qualitative research in psychology: Promoting methodological integrity. Qualitative Psychology, 4(1), 2–22. doi:10.1037/qup0000082
  • Lykes, M. B., & Mallona, A. (2008). Towards transformational liberation: Participatory action research and activist praxis. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Action Research II. London: SAGE Publications Ltd., pp. 260-292.

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