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10 years with SPS: Wendi looks at community to empower and solve problems

When Wendi Siebold decided to get a doctorate in action research to prevent sexual assault with an emphasis on engaging men and shifting gender norms, she did not expect to be in a position to start her own company just a few years later. Alas, it was 10 years ago when Wendi realized the niche of this work and decided she needed to cultivate a unique small business that could bridge rigorous research methods to the “real world” of social justice and action research.

Balancing power

and responsibility

In 2011, while splitting time between living in Seattle, Washington, and on the Blackfeet reservation in Northern Montana, Wendi incorporated Strategic Prevention Solutions as a business. At the time, neither the terminology nor the concepts of "prevention" or "practice-based evidence" were well-known. SPS has since rested at the crossroads of balancing the power and responsibility that comes when society turns to academic researchers for knowledge generation, while community ways of knowing and wellness have existed for millenia. This co-existence of “practice-based evidence” and “evidence-based practice” involves empowering community members and using community knowledge to solve problems.

"Something I like to talk about is our ability at SPS to walk between worlds of research and community practice. It’s not common that people who are trained and experienced in conducting research protocols are also approachable in the communities with which they collaborate and collect data. Some of our best work is done with laughter and not using words like ‘data,'" Wendi says.

Over the last 10 years, Wendi has worked on teaching community practitioners that evaluation doesn’t have to be scary or inaccessible. In fact, one of the goals at SPS is to encourage communities to see that program planning and evaluation are inextricably linked, which would lead to community empowerment and it would allow communities to build their own evidence.

Looking forward

As for the next decade at SPS, Wendi envisions the creation of more virtual tools, which would allow assessment to be in the hands of the masses. With that said, one of her favorite things is physically being in a community and sitting in on community meetings because she recognizes the power of meeting in person.

Although it isn’t its own field quite yet, prevention is gaining more and more attention in many different sectors. A piece of advice Wendi has for those looking to make a career in prevention and evaluation is this: “Always keep in mind that whatever you’ve been trained in has a certain lens from which you perceive the world of research and evaluation.”

Learning forgiveness

When asked about something difficult she has accomplished over the past year, Wendi talked about learning to have forgiveness for herself. Between work, being a single mother and just everyday life, she stays busy. She also holds herself to high standards in whatever she’s doing, which often adds an extra layer of stress.

“I’ve had to come to some serious acceptance within myself about who I really am... It’s not bad to strive to do things well, but it is bad if it’s taking away from your wellness," Wendi says.

To combat that stress, some of Wendi’s hobbies include gardening, boating, and writing. She also recently started cooking again (though she lets Costco help with holiday dessert!). Wendi reminisced about the time she boarded a plane in Anchorage, Alaska, after a long work meeting with two large pies—one apple and one pumpkin—to take home to Juneau for a holiday dinner. There was a brief moment with TSA where it looked like her quest might end badly, but Wendi got the job done!


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