Connecting local responses around the world
Samraksha is a development organization which has been working with communities for more than two decades now. Samraksha started its work in the field of HIV and reproductive sexual health, and has always been committed to working with the communities in order to prevent the spread of HIV and reduce its impact on the affected people. In order to do this, we have always used strengths based approach and worked with different communities – communities of identity like those of women in sex work, as well as geographical communities like villages.
We at Samraksha are very excited with a study we recently completed for Samuha, where we used the self assessment framework to measure the impact of an organization’s engagement with the village communities of Raichur and Koppal for 25 years. Samuha is a development organization which has been working on different sectors of development for more than three decades now. The goal of Samuha is to bring about a change in the quality of life of people, and to achieve this, Samuha works across different groups in the community- men, women, young people, and on different issues – microfinance, women’s empowerment, disability rights, health, watershed development etc.
This study intended to study the impact of Samuha’s work as a whole rather than just programmes and interventions. Therefore, both intended and unintended outcomes needed to be captured, and it also had to capture the impact of the interventions as well as the organizations culture, values and ways of working.
The self assessment framework is a way for communities to create a dream for themselves and also assess how far they have come on the path of achieving the dream. It is a strengths based approach which seeks to understand community’s aspirations and also helps them recognize their acheivements and potential.
The self assessment framework was originally developed the context of HIV was developed by the Constellation of AIDS Competence (now the Constellation of Community Life Competence). Samraksha’s own work with communities has been strengths based and centered on the belief in community potential. Hence, we have adapted and used this framework as part of our work with geographical communities in the past. For an earlier example of our use of this framework as a participatory evaluation methodology, see here.
In the current study, we had to develop a newer self assessment framework, which would look at different domains. The five major domains chosen for this study were women’s empowerment, economic development, development of people with disabilities, improvements in health and hygiene and reduced caste discrimination.
What was interesting about this study was that we twinned the self-assessment process with another participatory evaluation method, the Most Significant Change. Indeed, even the self-assessment framework we developed was based on the themes of change which emerged from the narratives of significant change stories.
Self-assessment proved to be very apt for this study, because it gave a community perspective on the different changes which the individuals had reported. In most instances it corroborated the individual narratives.
Communities spoke about how the position of women had changed, how women had grown as a result of exposure to different ideas through the self help groups and how they now aspired for a better life for themselves and for their children. They also spoke of how this increased exposure, as well as the contributions women were ensuring that they were having more say in decision making within their families.
They also shared about how Samuha’s self help groups contributed to economic development in the community, not just through promoting savings, but also promoting self sufficiency and entrepreneurial abilities in the community.
Illustrations from the Self Assessment
“Once, when women found us playing cards, one of them said, ‘you get together in a group to spend money, ruin the family, and waste money, but when we get together in a group, we discuss how to run a home, how to generate income and how to live a meaningful life. These words were like a slap.” – Sharing by a group of men during a self assessment process
“The village has many women’s groups and women have now developed an attitude of coming together during problems. This is a small village. So, the education department had closed down the school and the children had problems in continuing their education. With the help of Samuha, the women fought and restarted the school.” Communities appreciate the power of women’s groups during a self assessment.
“20 years ago, during a drought situation, Samuha arranged to give people sacks of jowar. They also suggested that we should collectively mobilize grains which we could give families in cases of emergency. The people who received the grains at that time treated it as a loan which they repaid over time. This helped form a grain bank, which has since then been helping many families through grain loans in times of distress.” Young people of a community share about how they developed an attitude of self sufficiency and helping each other in crises.
“There used to be a lot of caste discrimination, now, this has reduced considerably. From the trainings in the SHGs, we have learnt not to discriminate. We do not discriminate during SHG meetings and whenever go out together. But, still they do not come into the temples”. Women reflect on how discrimination has reduced but still persists in some ways.
Communities also spoke about how practices of caste discrimination were gradually reducing and although they acknowledged some covert forms of discrimination, this process offered a public forum where they recognized the need for non-discrimination and also affirmed their commitment towards achieving this.
As an evaluation methodology, the self assessment helped capture changes which may otherwise not be evident in programme evaluations. These included aspects like changing gender relations and increased aspirations within the community and the impact of collectivization on women’s abilities to solve problems. It helped understand changes through the lived experiences of individuals and communities as well as changing public norms on what was desirable and acceptable.
Even when certain potentially contentious issues like addressing gender power imbalances or reducing caste based discrimination was discussed, the community had a non-threatening form to debate on the issue. They were able to cherish and value the changes they had already achieved largely through a consensus based approach, and commit themselves to continued change.