When Communities Lead: Tips for Conducting Equitable and Culturally Responsive Research

As we center equity in our work at Mathematica, we’re focused on engaging with the communities that are impacted as participants and partners in the research. We’re focused, in short, in coming alongside diverse communities to support and facilitate equitable research as communities take the lead.

Our individual experiences and biases—even if unconscious—can affect our outlook and approaches, if unchecked. For example, a person might think of males as the default gender, or a researcher might ground research questions narrowly within their own experiences and assumptions. Ensuring that research and evaluation is equitable and culturally responsive requires researchers and evaluators to take a hard look at their own biases and consider how they may impact their approach to the work. Further, equity-focused and culturally responsive work not only requires researchers to confront their own biases, but to surround themselves with others who can provide varying perspectives. Finally, the field needs to hold itself accountable throughout this process.

The following tips provide a snapshot of best practices to consider as you center communities, integrate equity, and focus on cultural responsiveness in your research and evaluation work.

Prepare for the Project

  • Assemble a team whose collective lived experience is appropriate to the context of the research or evaluation being conducted.
  • Engage individuals who can serve as cultural guides to the community.
  • Compile an inventory of the people participating in the evaluation or the program being evaluated.

Engage Partners

  • Develop an advisory panel of stakeholders who represent the communities served by the program.
  • Seek to engage multiple voices (for example, marginalized communities and youth).
  • Pay attention to distributions of power. Power and privilege impact group dynamics.
  • Strive to balance the stakeholder group by including decision makers (for example, program leaders), program participants, and community members.

Identify the Purpose

  • Establish clear goals and expectations for the use of your research or evaluation.
  • Examine how well the research or program’s philosophy aligns with the cultural values of the community it serves.
  • Ask whether program resources are equitably distributed (for example, by examining a program’s criteria for inclusion and exclusion).
  • Ask what environmental or contextual factors the evaluation must include to understand outcomes.

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To help navigate the complex challenges of incorporating CREE in federal program evaluations, download our guide that shares activities to consider while deciding on research objectives, how to fund evaluations, and how to support evaluations.

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Frame Questions with Care

  • Include questions that are relevant to your partners and audience.
  • Determine what will be accepted as evidence in seeking answers to questions.
  • Examine whose voices are heard in the choice of questions and evidence.
  • Ask whether these choices reflect the lived experiences of your partners and study participants.

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Design the Study or Evaluation

  • Build a study design appropriate to both your questions and the cultural context.
  • Seek culturally appropriate methods that combine qualitative and quantitative approaches.
  • Construct control and comparison groups in ways that respect cultural context and values (for example, consider whether the design is appropriate for certain groups such as Tribal communities; consider the race and ethnicity of study participants when forming groups).
Team of people in a conference room

Research and Evaluation Solutions

Mathematica applies a culturally responsive and equitable lens to our evaluation design and data collection work.

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Select and Adapt Instrumentation

  • Leverage data that programs are already generating (for example, administrative records, meeting minutes, student applications, and student work).
  • Establish reliable and valid instruments for the community.
  • Ensure language and content of instruments are culturally sensitive.
  • Consider using art-based approaches to data collection (for example, Photovoice and poetry).

Collect Data

  • Use procedures that are responsive to cultural context to collect both qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Collaborate with the partner group to ensure methods are culturally appropriate for the community being studied. For example, a telephone survey might not be appropriate for all communities.
  • Ensure data collectors are carefully trained in technical procedures and cultural contexts.
  • Hire data collectors with contextually relevant lived experience.
Native Heritage

Native communities help guide the way forward on the journey from inquiry to insight. These groups seek to define their own research agendas, collect their own data, and use those data in ways that align with tribal self-determination to navigate the path to change.

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Analyze Data

  • Disaggregate data by subgroups and cross-tabulate by important cultural variables.
  • Examine outliers, especially successful ones.
  • Use cultural guides and interpreters to capture nuances in the findings.

Disseminate and Use Results

Three women and two men reviewing study results
  • Create review panels to help expand and enrich interpretation and dissemination of findings.
  • Develop materials that align with the purpose of the study/the mission of the program being evaluated (for example, create a short data brief of fewer than five pages, a one-page summary of key findings the program can use for marketing, or a short video reel the program can post on its website to showcase findings and program successes).


We fashioned these tips from key insights provided in Using a Culturally Responsive and Equitable Evaluation Approach to Guide Research and Evaluation compiled by Dr. Tanisha Tate Woodson, a researcher and culturally responsive and equitable evaluation consultant. Mathematica supports its journey to incorporate culturally responsive and equitable evaluation throughout our work in partnership Dr. Woodson. She leads a continuing series of organization-wide trainings that share concrete strategies for applying an equity lens in our research. These conversations on embedding equity into Mathematica’s evaluation practice advanced our ability to promote strategies that challenge:

  • who evaluation is conducted for and calls us to be intentional conducting evaluation in service of equity
  • what the evaluation is conducted for and calls us to answer critical questions that center around equity
  • how evaluation is conducted and calls us to align the evaluation practice around equitable principles