Power of Participatory Evaluation: Empowering Communities
Introduction From the perspective of a researcher and evaluator, it's not uncommon to be immersed in data, logic model spreadsheets, graphs, and survey outcomes. These tools, while essential, often overshadow a more people-focused approach that holds equal merit: participatory evaluation. This method transforms evaluation into a collective endeavour where local stakeholders transition from subjects to active contributors in gauging a program's impact. Also, such an approach was rooted in the "principles of emancipation and social justice" King, A.J., Cousins. B.J., & Whitmore, E. (2007).
Data Collection – Quantity vs Quality? Traditionally, data collected through primary interviews and secondary sources have steered the evaluation process. These in-depth interviews can often resemble high-stake grilling sessions, attempting to amass a vast amount of data within a limited time. Such a method often transcends into a mechanical process. In contrast, participatory evaluation champions collaboration. Community members transcend their roles as mere data points, offering precise, localized insights. The quality of data collected from participatory evaluation surpasses the usual standards. When fused with quantitative data, it provides a holistic view. Moreover, this method transforms participants into co-evaluators, fostering empowerment and heightening engagement. This, in turn, guarantees the acquisition of quality data.
Building Community Capacity The interesting aspect about this inclusive approach is the long-term value it offers. It equips community members with evaluation skills, preparing them to identify their needs and strategize initiatives. This empowerment seeds a perpetual culture of self-evaluation and continuous enhancement. Participatory evaluation often adds value when there is an essential layer of contextual understanding. When community members help in interpreting findings, they imbue the results with local socio-cultural nuances. Importantly, this approach adheres to ethical standards by giving the community control over their data's utilization and interpretation.
Use of Asset Mapping
Asset mapping stands out as a potent technique to initiate participatory evaluation. Initially introduced within Kretzmann and McKnight's asset-based community development (ABCD), it engages community members to recognize local strengths, resources, and prospects (Lum, T., McCleary, S.J., & Lightfoot. E. (2014).
Application of Cyclical Steps
ABCD encompasses five key assets; individuals, associations, institutions, physical assets and connections. This asset inventory, once mapped, serves as a catalyst for community engagement, ensuring that the evaluation is grounded in the community's own perspective. In order to map the assets a cyclical steps involving Probe, Train and Conduct could be undertaken thus providing providing participants a systematic approach to collecting data.
Navigating the Challenges While promising, the participatory approach isn't without its obstacles, notably around community politics and power hierarchies. One pressing concern is striking a balance between the structured methodology and the more fluid participative style. It's imperative to recognize these dynamics and devise strategies that uphold the inclusivity and fairness of the evaluation process.
In conclusion, participatory evaluation, rooted in principles of social justice and inclusivity, emerges as more than just a methodology. When academic theories blend with on-ground experiences, it evolves into a philosophy which then elevates the evaluation process but also ensures it is encompassing.
King, A.J., Cousins. B.J., & Whitmore, E. (2007), 'Making sense of participatory evaluation: Framing participatory evaluation', New Directions for Evaluation. https://doi.org/10.1002/ev.226
Lum, T., McCleary, S.J., & Lightfoot. E. (2014), 'Asset Mapping as a Research Tool for Community-Based Participatory Research in Social Work', Social Work Research. https://doi.org/10.1093/swr/svu001