The German Institute for Development Evaluation (DEval) and the Costa Rican Ministry of Planning (MIDEPLAN) have run the FOCELAC project (formerly known as FOCEVAL) together since 2014. It supports a large platform of public and private stakeholders for evaluation capacity development promotion in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Even in the platform’s first sessions, the participants felt it was important to explore more deeply the link between evaluation and social participation in the public agenda. The growing interest in the topic enabled the development of a number of short-term research activities which have involved academia, public institutions and civil society organisations.
As everyone who has visited EvalParticipativa, our community of learning, can see, participating in evaluations is a topic which can be expanded much further. So much so that the FOCELAC project has decided to address the topic from two main perspectives which we will call participatory evaluation and participation in evaluative processes.
With participatory evaluation, we are referring to those evaluations which give the leading role to the beneficiaries or those closely linked to the programme implementation. Those who carry out participatory evaluations are not necessarily evaluators, but fulfil the role of someone who facilitates the evaluation process by providing guidance, building capacity and offering appropriate tools so that the non-professional evaluation team can carry out the evaluation. Participatory evaluation is the specific focus for the community of practice and learning, EvalParticipativa.
With regard to the second term, evaluation with participation we are referring to evaluation processes which are more similar to those generally carried out by public institutions and international organisations. The models vary according to the organisation but usually replicate a structure which features one group linked to financing and/or programme implementation who is responsible for “managing” the evaluation; and a second group (evaluation team) who is responsible for the technical aspects involved in the evaluation. Evaluation with participation mainly affects the first group as they are responsible for most decisions during the evaluation process: what is evaluated; what the questions will be; what groups will be implicated by the evaluation; and how the evidence generated by the evaluation will be used.
At FOCELAC, we believe that by widening participation of interest groups as much as possible in decision-making processes related to evaluation management, it will be easier to extract results from the evaluation that represent a wider group of stakeholders and will therefore present more opportunities to discover and apply improvement measures. Another contribution from participatory evaluation is that the evaluation process creates moments of communication between interest groups which can result in a better collective understanding of the evaluated programme.
Participation also has its costs. Especially in terms of the time required to reach consensuses. Moreover, it can be difficult to identify which groups should take part in each decision and who should be chosen as representatives.
In the project, we have spent some time working with pilot schemes examining evaluation with participation to learn more about its potential; identify its costs; and try to minimise costs by developing participation tools. In June 2019, MIDEPLAN presented a “Guide for evaluation with participation”, available in the resources section of EvalParticipativa, which is linked precisely to this concept and lessons learned in the last few years.
From November 2019, MIDEPLAN, Evalúa Jalisco and SINERGIA will collaborate with FOCELAC to carry out pilot schemes for the Guide as part of its evaluation agenda framework. The hope is that by doing this, an edited version of the document can be drafted which will also develop ideas that can be adopted by other evaluation agencies in the region. EvalParticipativa will keep you informed of the progress of this interesting initiative.
Juan Carlos Sanz Vaca | Coordinator FOCELAC project – German Institute for Development Cooperation Evaluation (DEval)