Connecting local responses around the world
We often use the term community participation in evaluation but do we reflect enough on the degree and depth of this engagement?“Use of participatory tools alone do not guarantee ‘ownership’. Evaluation can be a largely extractive process of getting data from the communities…did the communities have a say in what data has to be collected?” (LaiaGriñó (2015), DME for peace webinar).In “Theory of ownership” Philip Forth argues, “When I decide what to do and I do it, then I have taken ownership.” When communities own the evaluation process, they develop an evaluative mindset and can act based on evidence. “Unless ‘beneficiaries’ develop the practice of asking critical questions that will solicit answers affecting their lives, they will always be spectators in their own development.” (Samuel D. Braimah, Embracing Evaluative Thinking for Better Outcomes: Four NGO Case Studies).
Constellation’sCommunity Life Competence aims to foster ownershipthrough action learning cycle from planning to self-assessment. For example, in 90 villages of Assam (India) we used family and community-centered approach to immunization where youth have played a key role. Community members collectively learned about the current status on an issue, compiled an action plan and tracked their own progress.
I will give you an example of self-assessment done by a group from the community in the photo given. Men, women and youth developed their dream for health of their children particularly through immunization. When the group assessed what the current situation in terms of their dream was, it provoked a conversation. Women said that children sometimes missed their immunization schedule because it was the responsibility of the mothers and when mothers were busy with other chores they did not take their children for vaccination. Fathers did take responsibility for the health of the children like in cases of fever but in vaccination they did not see the importance. On the other hand when there were side effects due to vaccination, fathers sometimes even asked the mothers to stop the schedule. Male youth argued that as men are busy working for the family’s livelihood how can they take this responsibility. Women said that children will then continue to miss their vaccination schedule. Some of the youth smiled said that not only fathers but other members of the family also need to take responsibility for health of the children. Then together the group drafted an action plan on how to go about it.
Thus, we see that community members began to own the entire project cycle from design to assessment. Self-assessment provoked a conversation and action. Adults valued the contribution of youth, youth recognized the importance of immunization and were keen to ensure it for their own children. Youth learned to think critically. Additionally, family-centred approach ensured that the onus of health of the children was not solely on the mother.
We often face several challenges in engaging communities like power dynamics based on age, gender, caste, religion, ethnicity etc.Communities may not trust their own capacity to respond to an issue and are dependent on outside support and power dynamics between communities and development professionals.Strength-based process helps to foster ownership, address power structures and build trust. It (strengths-based approach) assumes that people are capable of solving problems and learning new skills, that they are a part of the process rather than just being guided by a professional (Alliance for Children and Youth of Waterloo Region, 2009).
For contextual and realistic evaluation on issues related to communities,let us create human-centered conditions and make participation less cosmetic and more substantial. For achieving SDGs, all stakeholders have a key role to play. Communities need to shoulder the responsibility, then, ‘no one will be left behind’.
(part of my presentation at European Evaluation Society Conference Oct 2018 which was done in collaboration with Fabiola Amariles, and Svetlana Negroustoueva, from EvalGender+, as well as Gerardo Sánchez and Claudia Olavarría, from EvalYouth LAC. Find the blog on all presentations in the panel https://gendereval.ning.com/profiles/blogs/gender-evaluative-cultur.... Thanks to Margot de Ruiter and Dr Banda Rao for inputs on this blog.)