The activity’s context
The Servicio País (SP) programme carries out community action in mainly rural and often quite isolated areas throughout the country.
In 2019, the programme worked on 124 initiatives. One of these activities was located in Riñinahue and, to begin with, its first aim was to improve the production and marketing processes of three organisations working in the tourism, small family agriculture and craftwork sectors.
Since 2015, SP has implemented participatory evaluations in its activities as a way of learning about ways they could bring about improvements in the following phases of the initiative. Most of their initiatives have four phases (each lasting one or two years).
When evaluating the first phase of the work carried out in Riñinahue, a “community evaluation board” was set up integrating the programme’s regional team, a participant from the area and representatives from the following social organisations: Las Hormiguitas de Riñinahue (craftwork), Feria Libre de Riñinahue (small family agriculture) and Conociendo Riñinahue (tourism).
After the committee was set up, an evaluation workshop was established where the lessons revealed here were discovered.
A meaningful lesson
The lesson shared here is related to the way language is used and how it should be adjusted to its context. In the words of the facilitators themselves: “The biggest lesson was related to the type of question we ask and how it is formulated. It has to fit well into the context”.
More specifically, when the workshop was in its planning stages, the community evaluation board put considerable emphasis on creating a fun, entertaining and didactic tool. To do this, they adapted a popular game called “Jenga” and added questions to the pieces so that the participants answered the questions posed by the board as they removed the Jenga pieces. Whilst the game was a success, the language used in the questions was at times difficult for the participants to understand.
For example, one of the pieces said “What action has SP implemented to improve production and marketing of products from the area? Has this been useful for our work in the future? Why?”
In this specific case, the word “action” really confused the workshop participants and in the end, the facilitator reinterpreted the question as “What has SP done? What work has it done?”.
In this case the facilitators identified that there were certain words that both the programme team and the community evaluation board thought were easy to understand but in practice needed to be reinterpreted into more colloquial language (for example, skills/abilities/knowledge, words which SP uses day-to-day). This lesson is applicable to other instances related to the social action work and not just the participatory evaluation.
The moral of the story
The moral of the story can be understood in two ways. Firstly, there is the obvious lesson of improving the use of language, adapting it to include more common words and examples from everyday life. But the other lesson recognised by the facilitators was the challenge and need to plan every single stage of the participatory evaluation in detail. In this example, lots of attention was paid to creating a fun and motivating tool but little attention was given to adapting the way the questions were formulated so that all participants could easily understand.
As they explain “We put lots of focus on planning an entertaining learning tool, each stage, the game itself, the technique. And this all went well. But we didn’t spend as much time on thinking through the questions”. When using participatory techniques, the content is just as important as the way it is communicated.