by Rituu B. Nanda & Randika de Mel
Let us join hands EvalParticipativa! Greetings from India!
Congratulations on the brilliant work you have been doing on promoting participation of communities in evaluation.
We are of the Asia Pacific Evaluation Association (APEA) action group on Community Ownership in Evaluation. We held an online Consultation in July 2021 in which 90 people participated from different parts of the world to create awareness of the importance of strengthening community ownership in evaluation and to develop an action plan for community ownership in evaluation in the Asia Pacific Region.
The highlight was participation of communities in the consultation. Two indigenous youth from India (supported by Faith Foundation) accepted the Evaluation torch. A young youth leader presented her experience in girl-led research from EMpower.
What does authentic ownership actually look like?
We felt that participation is a spectrum and reflected on models like Arnstein’s ladder of participation and dimensions of collaborative inquiry from Weaver & Cousins .
Participants agreed that community ownership of evaluation is about the total involvement of the community in all stages of evaluation, from planning to data collection, analysis, dissemination and decision-making.
The idea is that the community, through its representatives of various social groups and classes in the community, knows the purpose of evaluation, how it would be conducted and how they would help define and implement it, and analyse the findings and ensure their use.
Who is the ‘community’ in community ownership?
“Power dynamics, including inequities, race, gender, ethnicity, class, rank, and privilege exist in communities”. Arnstein wrote in 1969 that participation without redistribution of power “allows the power holders to claim that all sides were considered but makes it possible for only some of those sides to benefit”. For the powerless it is an “empty and frustrating process”. Therefore, evaluation professionals need to take note of these power structures and carefully facilitate who speaks for the community when the approach is participatory. This is the case when even the youngest and the oldest, indigenous or of any race, or a LGBTI person, or one living with disability are able to share their opinion, said a young evaluator.
Why community ownership in evaluation?
Participants felt that the meaningful involvement of community creates transparency, trust, and ownership of evaluation. As expressed by Marco Segone: “When communities and citizens take ownership of development programmes and their evaluation, it empowers them, strengthens equality and sustainability”.
Accountability from the community is equally important: they measure their own progress as a collective. When the community is involved right from the inception of the programme through to evaluation, they take responsibility for their dreams and their problems, said Ruchira Neog. They assess where they stand, act and then re-evaluate themselves.
Embed community ownership in the system. With short evaluation time frames, in-depth community ownership is not feasible. Jayanthi Pushkaran from EMpower mentioned that increased pressure on funding recipients for outcomes has led to a greater emphasis on results pushing implementers and evaluators away from participatory approaches. Therefore, most felt that participation has to be institutionalized in the system.
What is the role of Evaluators and development practitioners?
The didactic approach from a knowing/knowledgeable subject to a supposedly ignorant ‘target audience’ should go. Participatory tools will be mere tools if we do not shift our mindset to a strength-based thinking that communities understand are capable of evaluating and finding their own solutions.
We have to change our role, from tradition evaluator to a facilitator of evaluation. “We should not define their problems at all; we are facilitators”, underlined another participant.
Community dialogues are held in an evaluation without any pressure. When community has the confidence to express their ideas and feelings… a learning environment emerges. We have to enable spaces where voices are considered regardless of status.
Strengthen community capacity so that they can evaluate anytime with little or no support from outsiders. We need to change the jargon in the language we use as evaluators. “Strengthen empowerment and transformative approaches to evaluation which keep communities at the centre of evaluation”, said Marco Segone, from UNFPA.
Evaluators have to make a case for social justice and a fair allocation of resources, opportunities and bargaining power for communities. “As a first step towards this, we must raise the importance of communities amongst broader evaluation circles, evaluation community, policymakers, funding agencies, and most importantly, amongst the communities themselves”, noted Marco Segone.
Changes in people’s lives happen at the community level. The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out decades of global development with greatest impact on vulnerable populations and hence derailing the delivery of SDGs. A critical way to set course again is to put communities and citizen participation at the centre of development, including in evaluation as a way to “leave no one behind’ in SDGs.
Examples and resources shared during the consultation
- Girl-led research facilitated by EMpower. Link to publication.
- Voluntary Health Association of Assam and Constellation: community ownership in the programme on routine immunisation. Link to the site.
- Social media campaign for community of volunteers in the Philippines that seeks to amplify the community initiatives planned and implemented by themselves. Link to the campaign site.
- Project funded by Humedica International and implemented by a local partner in district sanghar in Sindh province Pakistan. Link to the project site.
- Outcome Harvesting as a participatory methodology. Link to the book.
A call to re-distribute power
If we want our future generations to thrive, and undo the damage to our planet, we need an entirely different approach to problem-solving. We need to challenge our assumptions about power and re-examine who has a voice in making decisions. Ian Davies, evaluator, commented that “we in fact take power away, and we have taken power away. This is the societal ‘we’. So, it is not so much about empowering stakeholders, but it is about giving back the power that was taken from them and more specifically from right holders”.