EPE TIG Week: Exciting Role of Evaluation in Community-based Resilience Projects by Rupu Gupta

Hi, I’m Rupu Gupta, Co-Chair of AEA’s Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group and Researcher at New Knowledge Organization, a non-profit research and evaluation think tank. As a conservation psychologist, my research interests lie in understanding how people perceive different forms of nature and how they relate to caring for it. Most recently, my evaluation work on community resilience projects have advanced these interests and highlighted the unique value our field brings to these efforts.

The realities of climate change and the potential for adverse environmental events pose new ways of thinking about projects intended to create mutually beneficial relationships between humans and nature. Resilience building is a very strong focus now in this area, with the aim to create communities that are able to prepare, adapt, and recover from extreme events. Moreover, engaging local residents, who have direct knowledge and experience with their communities as active change agents, needs to be an integral part of these efforts. For example, Second Nature, creator of a Climate Leadership Network in higher education is piloting a collaborative project between community and university partners to develop shared resilience plans in three cities.  Similarly, The New England Aquarium in Boston is involved closely in creating collaborations with local groups to create resilient communities.

These projects place a strong emphasis on the human experience of a changing environment. This is a significant departure from efforts that rely heavily on developing physical, natural, and structural infrastructure. As these emerging trends bring to the forefront human capacity and potential to adapt to a rapidly changing world, project evaluation has a lot to offer. The following insights offer some exciting ways to think about and redefine our role as evaluators:

Lessons Learned:

  • Group-level processes are important indicators of program impacts. Creating resilience plans collaboratively among a diverse group of stakeholders depends on the use of inclusive practices and developing mutual respect and appreciation of multiple perspectives.
  • Patience is key in anticipation of outcomes within the project’s stipulated timeframe. A corollary of the previous lesson is that relationship building takes time and may take longer than expected to develop. Setting realistic expectations about measurable outcomes for partnership development is prudent and may benefit from further refinement during the project.
  • Resilience holds distinct meanings for different groups within a project context. Evaluators need to create opportunities to understand the various ways in which stakeholders think about the concept in relation to their community role. This will enable a culturally responsive resilience effort, meaningful for all stakeholders.
  • Participatory action research is useful in engaging community members. This approach can facilitate agency and self-efficacy in the process of co-creating plans for a resilient community. This is especially empowering for marginalized groups who are often overlooked in decision-making.

Rad Resource:

Check out an evaluation report on the progress of a community-focused resilience effort at its midpoint.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EPE 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.

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