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

John M. LaVelle, Natalie D. Jones, Scott I. Donaldson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The impostor phenomenon is a psychological construct referring to a range of negative emotions associated with a person's perception of their own "fraudulent competence" in a field or of their lack of skills necessary to be successful in that field. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many practicing evaluators have experienced impostor feelings, but lack a framework in which to understand their experiences and the forums in which 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 exploring impostorism in 323 practicing evaluators. The results suggest that impostor phenomenon in evaluators consists of three constructs: Discount, Luck, and Fake. 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 the phenomenon's detrimental effects for evaluators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAmerican Journal of Evaluation
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.


  • evaluation
  • evaluation practice
  • evaluator education
  • impostor phenomenon
  • psychology of evaluation


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