Anna Mertens joined the PAN Evaluation Team in early 2022 after she volunteered with us on a project. Before joining PAN, she worked in Montreal’s HIV community for seven years at ACCM. She brings her experience coordinating and evaluating an online sexual health program. Anna also brings the evaluation and research experience she gained through her Master’s of Public Health degree at the University of Victoria. Learn about other members of our team in the Meet the People at PAN series.
What sparked your interest in working in the HIV or hepatitis C community?
I started being interested in HIV through my work with sex education. My early sex education was in Michigan in the Bush era. Not only were there legally necessary lies about sexual health, but its narrow focus didn’t include queer realities or trans experiences. Like a lot of people, most of this education wasn’t really relevant to me.
With that experience, learning about HIV stigma, criminalization, inequitable healthcare, and so many other issues the community lives with struck me as a giant injustice. That feeling only grew as I worked with people and heard about daily experiences and systemic issues. It really lit a fire to address these issues and help people recognize social determinants of health like education and access to health information.
What kind of impact do you hope your work has on the “real world”?
I see evaluation as an essential way of knowing what’s actually happening in the real world. It’s so easy to grow a particular idea of how a program works or how people experience it. But that’s based on our limited experience as well as our own privileges and cultural values. Evaluation helps us know what people actually think, feel, learn, and experience. It lets us see a variety of experiences and make sure programs equitably benefit people without leaving anyone out.
What are you looking forward to in your work over the next year?
Learning! Every time we evaluate a program is a new chance to learn what people care about, what affects them, and so much more! I really love working with organizations that have such knowledge and dedication for their communities. I’m really looking forward to being humbled and working to learn more and do better.
How do you engage the community in your work?
In as many ways as possible. There are always limitations because of time, budgets, and other things. But making the community central in every piece of evaluation decision-making makes sure programs focus on what’s most important and relevant to the people they’re for. It’s how evaluation questions and any changes that evaluation leads to are respectful and meaningful.
I’ve always strived to make sure that people who are affected by programs decide how it works. I love PAN because MIPA/GIPA principles and Community-Based Participatory Research and Evaluation are so central. It’s how people can improve services and make sure they work as well for everyone in the community.
If you were able to choose, what is the natural talent or superpower you’d like to be gifted with and why?
I’ve always liked the idea of teleporting. I love being new places, but I hate getting there. So the idea of instantly being at Niagara Falls or in front of that-book-I-remembered is amazing! I also live in Montreal, so I’d be able to see my coworkers in person any time! I could even bring them Montreal bagels!