Feminist Issues in Evaluation TIG Week: Participatory Action Learning: Supporting Transformative Women’s Empowerment by Julie Poncelet and Catherine Borgman-Arboleda

We are Julie Poncelet and Catherine Borgman-Arboleda of Action Evaluation Collaborative, a group of consultants who use evaluation and collective learning strategies to strengthen social change work. Drawing from recent work with a nonprofit consortium of international NGOs engaging with women and girls in vulnerable, underserved communities in the U.S., Africa, India, and the Caribbean, we wanted to share lessons learned and rad resources that have helped us along the way.

We structured a developmental evaluation using the Action Learning Process, which focuses on on-the-ground learning, sense-making, decision-making, and action driven by a systemic analysis of conditions. We implemented a range of highly participatory tools, informed by feminist principles, to engage stakeholders in a deeper, more meaningful way. Specifically, we sought to catalyze learning and collective decision-making amongst various actors – NGOs, girls and women, and the consortium.

Lessons Learned: We have used the Action Learning Process in a number of projects, and learned valuable lessons about how this approach can be a catalyst for transformative change and development. Issues of learning versus accountability, power, ownership and participation, and building local capacity and leadership were critical this work, especially in the context of women’s empowerment, rights, and movement building. Learn more about these processes in these blog posts.

Rad Resources: The Action Learning Process draws from a number of frameworks for transformative women’s empowerment, based on research on women’s rights and women-led movements. These frameworks evidence the conditions that affect the lives of women and their communities, and that lead to scarcity and injustice.  With this in mind, we developed a series of context-sensitive tools to support women, girls, and NGOs to explore these conditions, identify root causes, and co-create ways of addressing issues affecting the lives of women, girls, and their communities. Some tools included:

  • Empathy map to provide deeper insights into the current lives and aspirations of women and girls. The insights from all the empathy maps were harvested to develop an overall framework, which were then aligned with the frameworks mentioned above.
  • Learning review guide to bring together different perspectives – staff, women, and other community actors –  to make sense of the information collected via the participatory tools, to reflect, to learn and to generate new knowledge to inform collective decision-making and ongoing planning.

The Action Learning Process attempted to redistribute the power of knowledge production from us, the evaluators, to the girls and women themselves. This was especially critical given the context: grounding the work in an analysis of women’s rights and movement building, and specifically on concepts of power and how it intersects economically, socially, culturally, and politically in women’s own lives.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Feminist Issues in Evaluation (FIE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the FIE Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our FIE 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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