Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Exploring the Impostor Phenomenon in Evaluation


The impostor phenomenon (IP) is a psychological construct that refers to a range of negative emotions associated with a person’s perceived fraudulent competence in a field, or with the skills necessary to be successful with his or her trade. Anecdotal evidence suggests many practicing evaluators have experienced IP feelings, but have lacked an empirical framework to help understand their experiences as well as a forum to discuss them. This paper summarizes the literature on the impostor phenomenon, applies it to the field of evaluation, and describes the results of an empirical quantitatively focused study which included open-ended qualitative questions that explored IP in 313 practicing evaluators. The results suggest IP in evaluators is comprised of four constructs (discount, luck, fake, and discount/luck interaction). Qualitative data analysis suggests differential coping strategies for men and women. Thematic analysis guided the development of a set of proposed solutions to help lessen IPs detrimental effects for evaluators.

Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation
Dr. Scott I. Donaldson
Dr. Scott I. Donaldson
Senior Research Scientist