One of the main characteristics of participatory evaluation is that of forming evaluation teams which give local stakeholders the leading role.
It is precisely this local element which ensures that we have trustworthy knowledge about the reality we are evaluating. It incorporates experience from ‘on the ground’ with specific subject knowledge relevant to the evaluation. Making the local context central to the process brings the challenge to find a balance between the “opportunity to participate with the capacity to participate”, enabling a harmonious development of various social, political and cultural experiences.
Many civil society organisations work with volunteers who are also part of their social action teams. TECHO aims to mobilise and train young volunteers and community representatives by working together to build a fairer, poverty-free society. To achieve this aim, three key actions have to be considered: (1) promote facilitating leaders for individual and collective transformation based on values of solidarity, conviction, diversity, optimism and excellence; (2) connect the greatest possible number of young volunteers and community representatives through activities which promote active and committed citizen participation; and (3) develop lessons and research and seek solutions for the human rights violation evident in settlements.
These key action areas present different types of challenges. For example, generational differences, gender roles, access to education, availability of time, personal and traditional beliefs, work and leadership styles etc. For this reason, efforts should be concentrated on diversity and on how this can be used to construct better working processes. It is, therefore, infinitely necessary to clarify objectives and the different steps involved in each of the processes. Because we build better when we all play on the same pitch and follow the same rules of the game. The main thing is the sense of ownership required in the processes: would evaluation be useful? and why do we want to be part of this team?
Yes, evaluation is useful. Because we should value and recognise our experiences. Because we need to identify the role that each stakeholder has and how each lesson can be used. We also need to learn more about what motivates people to get involved throughout the process. We should, therefore, generate a shared language which enables us to approach communicative action with local knowledge, respect and the search for a collective goal. This language will enable us to create methodological and creative strategies which have been tailored to the local context so that we can better understand the object of the study and ensure that the results provide practical solutions for communities.
But, an isolated interest in evaluation is not sufficient. The people involved should want to be part of this team. For this reason, it is vitally important that we work with people connected to the area who feel that they belong and are committed to the local context. This guarantees that all action is rooted in the strengths and direct needs of each participant. By doing this, we hope that evaluation represents a process of significant community growth which can foster and result in social transformation. Being part of a participatory evaluation team means being part of a social transformation team.
Social action should be participatory. Likewise, popular education, participatory action-research and participatory evaluation invite us to re-evaluate what we know and how we can use it to further the cause. Therefore, our pitch should be flexible and our team diverse.
Recognising diversity when encouraging idea-sharing enables us to overcome boundaries; build more inclusive, democratic and sustainable social processes; and emphasise specific features involved in the new participation scenarios in contexts where participation is limited or inexistent. In these situations, volunteers are valued as the main way of opening doors and overcoming obstacles.
María Jesús Silva Rozas | Coordinator Participatory Evaluation Team at TECHO