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Community Development TIG Week: Designing Inclusive Participatory Evaluation Approaches in Global Projects by Jennifer Roglà, Daniel Kanyembe, Festus Hanankuni, Elise Mann, and Lauren Riley

“Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having a voice to be heard.” -Liz Fosslien

This year Community Development (CD) TIG’s sponsored week focuses on community development evaluation and how members are addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Research shows that diversity and inclusion in the workforce enhance organizational performance and creativity, and positively impact population health outcomes ( CDC; Science Direct Diversity Article). In the forthcoming week, the CD TIG will seek to highlight these efforts, as well as share Hot Tips and Tools with readers on how to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within the community development and evaluation workspace.

Hello AEA! We are Jennifer Roglà, Ph.D., Global Director of Research & Evidence, Daniel Kanyembe, Zambia Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator, Festus Hanankuni, Zambia Nutritious Foods Project Manager, Elise Mann, Senior Manager of WASH Innovation & Performance, and Lauren Riley, Ph.D., Global GESI Manager. Our nonprofit, iDE, is a global development organization that designs and delivers market-based solutions through a human-centered design (HCD) lens in Agriculture and WASH in 10 countries across Asia, Africa, and Central America. 

The damaging effects of colonization can be clearly seen in many aspects of modern international development practice, including some monitoring and evaluation approaches that exclude clients’ participation in their design. In many cases, donors and organizations like ours enter communities with assumptions of what success looks like in a project, formed with minimal consultation of local community members. When evaluations are designed without intentional community involvement, pre-established indicators may be irrelevant to community members, data collection focuses on sample sizes over inclusion of socially excluded groups, can cause harm, and key takeaways may never be shared with community members. 

We want to decolonize our impact measurement. Applying the human-centered methodology iDE is known for to design evaluations through participatory approaches seemed like a good place to start so, this January, we ran a small pilot with our Nepal team. Now we will launch “Her Time to Grow” in Zambia, Ghana, and Ethiopia, a project to support existing village savings and loan associations (VSLAs) and women’s collectives with agriculture and business-based training, market linkages, and gender empowerment activities. This will launch on the heels of International Women’s Day and a two-year commitment made by iDE to integrate gender and social inclusion into all aspects of our organization and work.

Using a participatory evaluation approach allows for the mutual alignment of priorities and timelines between implementers, target clients, and community members. It also aligns those critical parameters that define project success with the client’s perspective. So, to design our evaluation in an inclusive way, we have done extensive literature reviews, expert interviews, and staff interviews to learn more about participatory evaluation and what both excites and scares people about it. We then looked to our relationships in Zambia with two women-led VSLAs, the Tuchatani and Kunembo Savings Groups. We met with their Presidents to give them background on the project and participatory approaches. They then contacted the other VSLA executive members and agreed to collaborate with us on this new endeavor. 

In the coming months, our three organizations will engage stakeholders in the evaluation design process. For example, we will hold joint working sessions to determine how potential clients would define project success, what indicators they would like to see measured, and if their priorities align with the measurement tools and methods we had in mind. As locally-based organizations, the Tuchatani and Kunembo Savings Groups will be able to better identify potential project stakeholders and cultivate honest answers and alternatives to our evaluation plans. 

So far, the women we spoke to in the VSLAs are excited to be part of a process that allows them to share their experiences and express their project goals. And we’re just getting started – after adapting this methodology across the multi-country project, we will keep learning and adjusting it across all our projects. We think this evaluation approach can fundamentally change project planning and implementation by hearing directly from community members, particularly those who have been systemically marginalized in the past, so that clients and community members define project success. If you have expertise with participatory evaluation, we’d love to hear from you!

Rad Resources

In the meantime, here are some of our go-to resources on participatory methods and human centered design:

*Special thanks to our wonderful iDE interns for supporting this process from the beginning: Aisha Nazir, Rachel Dean, and Erin Mercado.*

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Community Development TIG Week with our colleagues in the Community DevelopmentTopical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our CD TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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