PARTICIPATORY EVALUATION AS A KEY TO EMPOWERMENT FIRST DAY OF THE GATHERING FROM THE EARTH’S ‘CENTRE’.

With welcoming smiles and anticipation in their eyes, the participants shared their accents, nuances and idioms around a single topic: their experiences with Participatory Evaluation.

After personal and institutional introductions, one question caught the participants by surprise: “What do I like about myself.

Despite their humility and the fact that they were not used to talking so openly about themselves, everyone agreed on the same characteristics; passionate, intrepid, curious, humble and ready to learn. It was as if Participatory Evaluation attracts all those willing to be disruptive, not only in their personal lives but also in all the domains they come into contact with.

During the first part of the morning, various groups presented their experiences of conducting PE. Each one touched on four central themes: difficulties and limitations, advantages and contributions, key lessons learned and challenges in conducting PE.

Each of the experiences alluded to knowledge as an instrument of collective social development and intervention which motivates change.

– The experience “Evaluation of Prevention and Support Services for Cancer in the Valle la Estrella Costa Rica” featured the concept of empowerment. This process of “investing power” was carried out by trainers and everyone who got involved felt compelled to continue. One of the main challenges was that the group of participants was so heterogeneous that the only thing they coincided in was that none of them knew what Participatory Evaluation was and obviously had therefore no experience in it. In turn, this was linked to another challenge: how to conduct an evaluation in line with quality requirements. Another challenge was posed by the data collection process and its consequent methodological consequences: build capacity in participants so they not only knew about PE but also saw themselves as “evaluators”. Empowerment was highlighted by one of the community evaluators: ” we are empowered and equipped to be participants and reach people through Participatory Evaluation… to be taken into account, I’ve learned so much and we now have the duty to keep participating in this learning”.

-The experience “Participatory Evaluation Pilot Scheme in Servicio País social action programme” presented empowerment as a requirement for organisations, achieved through training in evaluation capacity development. At this point, another challenge surfaced: how to break away from usual beliefs about evaluation which come from the quantitative perspective which presents evaluation as a complementary feature to achievement results. To disrupt this way of thinking, the dimensions evaluated included not only the results but also the processes, methodological effects and ways of functioning. In other words, conducting an evaluation on evaluation. Therefore, evaluation was carried out from a different perspective: qualitative, collective and mid-term.

This pilot scheme allowed Programa Servicio País to observe participatory evaluation through the use of non-conventional techniques, which became an unexpected factor in its success, allowing participants to define their own criteria of achievement, evaluate results and design working strategies. This type of evaluation encourages active participation, collective reflection and the showcasing of lessons learned, as this contributes to the permanent record of collective goals and motivational elements for participants in the process.

– In the experience “Evaluation of Cooperation Project for Developing DW Akademie Media in Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia” empowerment was demonstrated in DW Akademie’s decision to not contract external evaluators, but instead take on the challenge to be the evaluators. Consequently, this led to the challenge to reflect on project evaluation (with additional previous support from an external DEval evaluator who provided help in forming evaluation questions, research, desk research, results presentation and final reporting).

The projects in Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia all participated in PE learning even though each country had different objectives. This was the breakthrough moment:  previously, evaluations were external and their recommendations were not their own. Then, as they adopted the role of being evaluators, they began to take ownership of these recommendations which would be used to form subsequent projects. They would continue to not only incorporate organisations in their creation but also involve the members in their development.

– The final experience presented in the first part of the day was the “Mid-term Evaluation of the Regional Consortium Program for Agricultural Research (CRIA), Guatemala” or to give it a name more in line with the vibe of the day: Participatory Evaluation under extreme pressure. This presented a whole new vision: a paradigm which is shared by evaluations which are practical, useful, collaborative and participatory. This is based on the well-known saying “if you don’t use it, it won’t work” emphasising that findings have to be put to use. Using a series of problems and challenges, PE was seen not only as a way to generate real solutions on the ground but also as a way to transform social dynamics and even institutional cultures. We gleaned an unexpected finding from this: the programme was not only generating leadership in the regions but also encouraging the use of this approach in its own context.

Instead of the obligatory recuperative siesta, one of the participants coordinated a participatory activity, which consisted in transmitting energy sources by replicating Asian words which consequently led to outbreaks of laughter. Did it work? Nobody will ever know! But everyone certainly started the second block of four experiences in a good mood and with their lungs full of fresh air from all the laughter.

-The organisation TECHO presented various evaluation experiences from their working groups in Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay. TECHO has run 442 working groups in close to 564 settlements where they have carried out 108 community infrastructure projects. The so-called working groups are spaces for training and popular education where stakeholders are trained and equipped to reflect, analyse, propose solutions and act. In this way, PE was used to reaffirm the collective spaces for deliberation and also to strengthen participation. Due to the number of working groups, they have recognised the  need to standardise and improve them as well as the need to incentivise citizenship participation as they collaborate in decentralising power. This, in turn, would enable sustainability in community management which cements collective identity and promotes networking.

-The presentation “Capitalising Experiences, CTA Project (Africa, Asia and L.A.)” broke with the patterns set by the other experiences.  Penrose’s Stairs, a painting of an infinite staircase, was used to reflect on the initiative of “implementing, learning from the implementation, whilst implementing”.  In this regard, active learning not only generates practical and theoretical efforts but also makes the capitalisation of experiences a reality. This is not referring to another systematisation process; no, it goes beyond that. Rather than simply motivating the use of reflections or generating knowledge, it makes the capitalisation of experiences possible and establishes this process. And in doing so, it validates the process itself.

-The last experience of the afternoon was the “Participatory method to self-evaluate educational quality”. Self-evaluation in these contexts inspires the promotion of the evaluative culture among teaching staff through participatory processes. The method for self-evaluation has three defining features: it is guided, confidential and participatory. This experience intended to set up smart schools as supported by the Theory of Change. This is not referring to excellence in curricular terms, but rather to developing non-curricular skills through open and consultative school management. The three groups of people active in this method were the teaching staff/school management, the family and the students. This participatory experience resulted in an action plan. Due to the fact that the method was in tempo with the beat of the school, this self-evaluation also insisted on training staff as they asked questions using their own practices and secured better teaching strategies.

We hope that these daily updates help you to feel a part of the sessions too. We are committed to using these posts to: break down borders so that everyone can participate!

Have a look at the first day’s photo gallery!

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