What is Gender-sensitive Evaluation and how can this approach support RRI sustainable transformation?

Implementing Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) actions in research organisations, such as interventions aimed at addressing gender imbalances, implies great challenges. Evaluation can be a powerful tool in underpinning this process. Particularly in gender equality interventions, a gender-sensitive evaluation[i] approach is essential if attention is paid to the needs of the underrepresented genders and the promotion of sustainable change. In view of that, the key question is what gender-sensitive evaluation is, and how this type of evaluation can support RRI sustainable transformation.

Gender-focused or gender-sensitive evaluation has its roots in the feminist research tradition. Gender-focused evaluation was introduced in the 1990s, primarily in the area of international aid evaluation, and gained wider recognition in the mid-1990s, in connection with the Beijing Conference, where the need for gender-focused evaluations of development programmes was acknowledged for the first time. Since the Beijing Conference, the interest for gender-sensitive evaluation among gender scholars and evaluation scholars has increased, also in connection with evaluations of gender equality interventions and programmes.

Obviously, the key question is what characterizes gender-sensitive approaches and what the principles of gender-sensitive evaluation are. A gender-sensitive approach perceives inequality as systemic and structural, subject to power relations and thus resistance. It advocates for an evaluation that considers power from the beginning of the process, as it perceives evaluation as a political activity, where different actors’ interests create frictions in the organisation. Gender-sensitive evaluation recognizes that knowledge is contextual, allowing us to shed light on different power configurations in specific contexts and during a particular time-period. These configurations of power, and the resistances they involve, can go a long way in explaining, facilitating and hindering factors, and the successes and failures of, for example, gender equality action implementation.

Overall, gender-sensitive evaluation is characterized by the following principles:

o Evaluation is seen as a political activity that takes place in political contexts

o Focus is on gender inequalities that are a manifestation of social injustice

o Inequality based on gender is perceived as systemic and structural

o Gender-sensitive evaluation applies a critical and reflective view to power structures — reflexivity is linked to every aspect of the evaluation design and involves critical self-reflection — evaluators are either value free nor neutral and have to be explicit about their values and interests in the evaluation process

o Emphasis is on participatory, empowering, and social justice agendas

o Where there is power, there is resistance — gender equality interventions negotiate power and thus create resistance.

By endorsing a view of evaluation as a political activity, contributing to equality through the recognition of the organizational, institutional, and systemic patterns at play, gender-sensitive evaluation acknowledges that evaluation can move society towards greater social justice.

In this type of evaluation, the knowledge produced is local and has to be considered in relation to a particular context, place and time but it is also perceived as a powerful resource — a resource of and for the people who create it, and should be shared among all actors. Gender-sensitive evaluation seeks thus to uncover power relations by revealing whose knowledge counts, how knowledge is utilized, by whom and to what purpose. This implies a multifaceted process that challenges the structural power configurations in order to empower women. The involvement of the different actors in the organization is therefore at the heart of the RRI process implementation and a key component in the evaluations from a gender-sensitive perspective.

As RRI implementation in an organization has a transformational aim, evaluation from a gender-sensitive perspective, which has a structural understanding of change, is well suited to address RRI actions targeting gender issues. Thus, use of gender-sensitive evaluation can provide policy makers, practitioners and evaluators with the necessary tools to achieve sustainable structural change. The RESBIOS project makes use of the knowledge, experiences and results from previous European projects and other relevant sources to effectively carry out robust evaluations of RRI implementation of grounded action plans in a number of European research organizations, accounting for contextual and structural issues.

Evanthia K. Schmidt

Aarhus University

Department of Political Science

The Danish Centre for Studies in Research and Research Policy


[i] The blog is based on Bustelo, M. (2017). Evaluation from a gender+ perspective as a key element for (Re)gendering the policymaking process. Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, 38(1), 84–101, and Brisolara, S., Seigart, D., & SenGupta, S. (2014). Feminist evaluation and research. Theory and practice. New York: Guilford Press.



Mutual learning for responsible biosciences

This is the blog of the ResBios project (https://www.resbios.eu). It aims to bring RRI institutional changes into some biosciences research organizations.