THE FAIR HAS COME TO TOWN!

The last day of the First Gathering of Participatory Evaluation Experiences for Latin America and the Caribbean began with an invitation to reflect on the various techniques, tools and instruments used in PE.

Participants took it in turns to select tools that they felt comfortable using and put them into different categories: audiovisuals, narratives, graphics and texts, group/experiential activities. Then, they exchanged their experiences and perspectives on them.

The narrative tools included systematisation, testimonies, journals, the More Significant Change, stories from the future, studies of good practice, lifestyle analysis. Graphics and textual tools included collaborative drawings, transects and maps, stones and fishes, mind maps (of networks, resources and stakeholders), calendars, diagrams and matrices.

For group/experiential experiences, participants proposed simulation games, maps, sociometry, focus groups, collective mapping, community meetings and assemblies, timelines, workshops on varied themes.

Finally, in terms of audiovisual tools, they focused on techniques which include videos and photolanguage.

Then, armed with advice to practise active listening, we held a conversation over coffee around the following question: What is the main challenge we face in making sure that PE tools and instruments reach their full potential?

Four groups were randomly formed during two rounds of conversation allowing us to discuss the specific challenges around the use/creation of PE tools. The discussion was pleasant at the same time as deep and all participants contributed their perspectives on how the tools are used.

On each table there were four members and an object which was used to define who could speak at any given time. After two rounds of deepening the discussion, the conversation was opened up and the main points shared were recorded on a flip chart. With the exception of one of the group members (who had been appointed host) everyone then changed groups. In the second round, the facilitator, previously appointed, introduced the points previously discussed by the original group. At this point, each member had to select the most significant challenges discussed by the previous group and look for similarities and differences with the group they had originally been in. After exchanging ideas, we compiled them to form a collective idea on the topic and the host asked the participants to think about how they could act if confronted by this challenge.

And so the challenges involved in using various tools were fresh in the minds of all participants and the stage was perfectly set for the Participatory Tools Fair!

The TECHO participants presented various tools: “The timeline”, “The race” and “Defining the Working Group”, “What are we evaluating?”. Each one made use of boards and cards to focus on getting to know the community better.

“What have we done and where are we going?” was a tool linked to information analysis, focused on what is it? and how does it work? through role-plays.

They also presented various methodological tools which focused on facilitating systematising evaluation findings, recreating the Intervention Theory through figures and shared a kind of support model called “Yes, No, It depends”, which could be used in difficult interviews that only seem to feature monosyllabic answers.

And as required in any fair, Tarot cards were dealt as a different way of conducting a Focus Group.

While it may sound strange, the fair featured a moving traffic light, designed especially as a tool to measure advances and achievement of goals.

Please note! This space was not only designed with evaluators and facilitators in mind. In line with the idea of listening to everybody, tools were also designed to work well with those voices usually forgotten: children’s. This was achieved by creating tools which allowed tripartite work: students, parents and teaching staff/school directors.

Along the same lines, they presented the game: Thinking game: myths and beliefs around cancer, which was used to turn the table on preconceived ideas. This tool made people question word of mouth knowledge full of misinformation on sensitive topics. This instrument is used to help people learn by playing, questioning and breaking down conventional wisdom.

Finally, the day ended with a plenary in which people shared their differing views on the challenges in using, designing and validating PE tools. As you would expect in a participatory gathering, the final thoughts were also gathered in a collective manner.

Everyone agreed that one of the key challenges was to make sure the tools continued to function well when upscaled. This is relevant when participatory spaces are enlarged and relates to how important it is to highlight participation when institutionalising tools. In turn, they emphasised the importance of generating structural frameworks which allow evaluative practice to move to the next level. A constant questioning of why serves as a compass to show us where we are going and simultaneously as an anchor to remind us where we have come from. Thus, we are presented with a situation which at other times could be considered utopian: give voice to all stakeholders involved in participatory processes to favour social capital. In this sense, the various participants observed the need for suitable evaluative tools to exist but not without trialling them first, focusing on the fact that they should always be communicated in horizontal language that is easy to understand for all stakeholder participants. In light of this, it was suggested that tools should be created to evaluate the tools themselves. Managing to consolidate this metaevaluation would be one way of generating evidence that decision makers need to argue in support of incorporating PE as an approach.

One essential aspect is understanding these challenges and solutions starting from the planning stage so that attempts to integrate these tools into the agenda could facilitate evaluation work from the outset. In light of this, it is necessary to keep in mind transformative processes which generate the tools both in the contexts used and in the evaluative process itself.

This point is essential as it also questioned the challenge to contribute to PE institutionalisation by using these tools and by giving it a distinctive flavour or characteristic when compared to other methodologies as this instrumental factor is also a way of permeating the same evaluation.

Based on the ideal of seeing participation as a human right, we discussed the possibility of the government considering the use of PE in public policies. Importantly, the instruments should never be unrealistic and should always be transformative. In fact, the evaluation is an intervention in itself as it modifies how a

For this reason, it is also important to break with paradigms belonging to traditional evaluation and ensure that innovation is not related to a lack of rigorousness. Increasing legitimacy and rigorousness are essential steps for PE scalability and institutionalisation.

All agreed that when one conducts a traditional evaluation, you have to think about the hows and whats which are taken from the experiences. When conducting a PE you have to consider everything it leaves behind and how it contributed to change. This activity ended our First Gathering of Participatory Evaluation Experiences for Latin America and the Caribbean. Five days of intense work in which we not only exchanged information, took part in various activities and shared experiences and viewpoints; but achieved much a deeper result during our time by knitting together networks. As in every journey, the first steps are the hardest to take. The good thing is that from now on there are many of us who will be taking first steps in our own areas and each of these steps will bring us closer and closer, in this participatory sense, to that which we are all convinced of: the fact that nobody will be left behind.

For now, we will leave you with a new photo gallery from our gathering and sincerely hope to meet again soon!

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