EvalParticipativa: An initiative that gives meaning to the Epistemologies of the South

by Celeste Ghiano (*)

When reviewing the objectives of the EvalParticipativa Community, I read: ‘[…]our aim is that this space can be used for the social and collective construction of knowledge on participatory evaluation without the need for an “expert” or “trainer”...’  I also read ‘[…]horizontal and collective learning’. And it automatically brings to mind ideas from Popular Education (Freire), Justice against Epistemicide (de Souza Santos) and Interculturality.

Our region has spent years developing alternative ways of thinking about evaluative processes, deconstructing ways of thinking and doing.  This has introduced interesting debates that have led us to reflect not only on how to evaluate but also on who should evaluate (and from what knowledge and what feelings).

The Network for Monitoring, Evaluation and Systematization of Latin America and the Caribbean (ReLAC) promotes the development of these topics through its working groups. Thus, the group, Evaluate from Latin America and the group Evaluation Standards for Latin America and the Caribbean, develop and exchange ideas, and generate theoretical and practical knowledge to cause us to think and reflect along these lines and in accordance with the network’s mission and objectives.

The debate on the professionalisation of evaluation (also discussed in the ReLAC community) prompts us to think that, as evaluators, there is a significant ethical and political element involved when we choose what criteria and indicators (and not others) to evaluate, leaving out other viewpoints, other findings, and other results; which would result in other recommendations.  There lies the paradox that, in order to reduce the subjectivity of one view/person, rather than turning to ‘objectivity’ or ‘evaluative neutrality’, it becomes necessary to resort to the subjectivity of many people in order to build, in a democratic and participatory manner, the criteria, indicators, interpretation and evaluation results, as well as the ways of using the recommendations that come from the evaluation.

The birth of our region’s evaluation community was inspired by models such as Made in Africa Evaluation, the Aloha Framework, the Aortearoa New Zealand Evaluation Association (ANZEA) and its own path to decolonising evaluation with proposals such as the Indigenous Evaluation of Latin America and the Caribbean (video), Outcome Harvesting, Evaluation from a Gender, Human Rights and Intercultural perspective,  which use our worldviews and needs as a starting point. In this vein, it is worth visiting the Repository on Evaluation in and for Latin America and the Caribbean on the ReLAC website. There are also useful guides that have been written for a global audience but adapted to our region such as the Guide to Transformative Gender Evaluation with Cultural Relevance in Latin America  or the CARE Principles of Indigenous Data Governance in Latin America & the Caribbean.

This demonstrates that Latin America and the Caribbean offer an Epistemology of the South, related to other ways of thinking about certain concepts. According to De Souza Santos, the Epistemologies of the South propose an epistemological disruption, with the intention of recovering the value of integrating distinct knowledge sources through intercultural translation, making it an essential part of constructing knowledge ecologies.

Three basic ideas underpin the Epistemologies of the South: (1) global understanding far exceeds western understanding, (2) there is no global social justice without global cognitive justice, and (3) emancipatory shifts in the world can follow different patterns and scripts than those developed by western critical theory.

In this context, a clear and cross-disciplinary example in several of the above perspectives is the definition of development. We have traditionally been taught to think that the development model is linked to socio-economic development, of individual growth in hierarchical structures.   Meanwhile, the constitutions of two countries in our region (Bolivia and Ecuador) already incorporate the perspective of Buen Vivir (Good Living) and Vivir Bien (Living Well), terms that in Aymara and Quechua speak to us about a human development that implies complete individual and collective well-being in relation to our bond with nature, others and ourselves. A collective and community development from circular structures: I am because you are.

Our region is one of the most diverse, with more than forty countries and overseas territories, around 600 million inhabitants and more than 430 languages. It features indigenous, immigrant, mixed-race, and diaspora groups; with wide social gaps, violated rights and great challenges, many aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This brief panorama invites us to think about the great need to create spaces for active participation so different voices are heard and contextual representations are integrated from each community involved in an evaluation. It also requires us to think once again about evaluation’s training function and its commitment to install ‘inbuilt capacity’ in the involved communities to ensure that they take ownership of the processes, legitimising at the same time the evaluation results, promoting a greater impact and use for decision-making.

I feel that the work of the EvalParticipativa community is fed by, and feeds, our epistemologies of the south with a Latin American and Caribbean flavour, and with great potential to influence on a global level.

I suggest the following questions, to invite the community to continue to reflect on this relationship between Epistemologies of the South and Participatory Evaluation:

    • What aspects of the participatory evaluation process are typical of the region?
    • What can we learn from the worldviews of the communities we work with regarding participatory methodologies, that can be incorporated into our facilitation processes?
    • What do local stakeholders and communities teach us about the participatory use of evaluation results?

Thank you very much for the opportunity to reflect with you. I’m always available to continue to collectively build rigorous, ethical, culturally responsible, relevant and useful evaluation to transform people’s lives and leave no one behind.

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