Dear friends, we are continuing to learn from each other and this time we will hear some thoughts from Fernanda Arriaza, TECHO member. This organisation works in 19 Latin American countries and seeks to overcome the poverty experienced by millions of people living in informal settlements through initiatives which unite the efforts of settlement dwellers and young volunteers. In this post, you can read about the lessons they learnt in an experience that was recently documented as part of an initiative in and with the Working Group.
We would like to remind you that our invitation to share your meaningful lessons remains open and we would love to receive and share your them. Greetings!
The Working Groups are spaces for training and popular education, decision-making and community networking with the active participation of settlement dwellers and TECHO volunteers. This works well firstly, because the people involved develop lessons through sharing and complementing the ideas and worldviews that each person or group brings. In other words, everybody is always learning and teaching something as part of a dialectical process. Secondly, because these lessons lead to ideas which should be planned, executed and evaluated and this requires decision-making in conjunction with different sectors and community groups.
The aim of the evaluation was to reveal how the Working Group worked in the Santa Teresa informal settlement and analyse its strengths and weaknesses from the viewpoint of the community stakeholders.
This experience took place in the Santa Teresa informal settlement, located in the San Bernardo area, south Santiago de Chile between July 2018 and March 2019. Those involved in this process were: settlement leaders and neighbours, volunteers who assist the community work and a team lent out by the institution.
A full and detailed report of this and other Working Group evaluations can be seen in the section Experiences and cases of Participatory Evaluation. You can also see the video documentary on this case at this link.
Over the last 20 years, TECHO has worked together with communities and its Working Groups have generated projects linked to housing, community infrastructure, education, work and community development. In some cases, they were evaluated using several different qualitative and quantitative methodologies, measuring satisfaction and levels of efficiency. However, these evaluations focused on the projects and not on the Working Group itself.
In this situation, it was critically important to analyse how this community action space worked, which, as previously mentioned, required joint participation and the co-construction of solutions. A participatory approach for the evaluation was the most appropriate for this context. Due to the fact that it could have wide regional implications and also the value placed on it as a tool to spark off transformations, it was of upmost importance to carry out an evaluation which was coherent with the meaning and practical application of the Working Group in a horizontal and co-responsible manner.
We started this process with two distinctive TECHO community features in mind: (1) all initiatives are highly participatory at all stages and (2) all settlement residents know about the Working Group.
Whilst we recognised the value the Working Groups have for being relevant and efficient at responding to the needs of the community, this recognition had not been confirmed in a participatory manner, managed by the community itself. This was evidenced by a generalised lack of knowledge among residents that the Working Group existed. In other words, they were not aware of when the Working Group began, what aims it pursued and who should be members. According to the residents, attending the Working Group was the responsability of the steering group and its president.
This information was revealed as a result of bringing together all the involved stakeholders: residents, community leaders, volunteers and TECHO professionals. Another chapter to this story was able to be written thanks to the possibility of generating the right conditions so that those who had walked this path could reconstruct it again.
For reasons of transparency, it is necessary to clearly define what the Working Group characteristics are and it is essential that this clarity is seen at all levels, from the institutional to the community residents. It is also recommended that the Working Group should be a space where leadership skills are truly strengthened among all those involved. This should be considered a priority for TECHO´s current work in the area, but also, for all those convinced that organisation is the driving force for change.
In all TECHO initiatives, it is necessary that the Working Groups promote community communication based on trust and transparency so that healthy social harmony can be generated in the neighbourhood.
It is also necessary that the Working Groups themselves are the ones who take care of these essential points because the projects developed in the community should focus on building capacity in those who are involved in them. This means that in addition to responding to and seeking to provide a solution for a need prioritised by the community, each project also relies on the participation of the residents to manage each step in the process from the initial idea through to its evaluation.
Fernanda Arriaza López
Community Management Director | TECHO International