My name is Wayne Miller and I am a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Avondale College, Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia. In December I received my doctorate from the University of Wollongong following acceptance of my thesis titled Practical methods to evaluate school breakfast programs – A case study. The study reports the use of empowerment evaluation with a national school breakfast program in Australia known as the Good Start Breakfast Club (GSBC).
During the project some eighty GSBC program personnel took part in ten empowerment evaluation workshops to identify key program activities for investigation; gather baseline data about the strengths and weaknesses of the activities; suggest goals and strategies to monitor and improve the activities identified; and to develop evaluation tools designed to provide evidence of success. Following workshops I asked participants …from your experiences in these initial workshops how valuable do you think the empowerment evaluation method is for collaboratively evaluating the GSBC program? 42/80 indicated ‘very’ to ‘extremely’ valuable with a further 36/80 responding ‘reasonably’ to ‘quite’ valuable. A regional coordinator commented, the model is definitely in line with the principles of our program and empowering the community. One beautiful response from an outlier, a total waste of time and all about Miller getting his doctorate!
Toward the end of the project I interviewed 29 program personnel who had been directly involved in the evaluation and I asked them to reflect on the empowerment evaluation process and particularly whether it had adhered to the ten principles of empowerment evaluation. Respondents made up of volunteers and teaching staff at the ‘coal face’, school principals, GSBC coordinators and executive staff from Red Cross the program managers, and the Sanitarium Health Food Company, the major sponsor, reported both alignment and misalignment with the principles. Two examples: On the principle of democratic participation defined as active participation by everyone in shared decision-making is valued…respondents acknowledged that the ‘taking stock’ step of the empowerment evaluation had been particularly democratic but that the democratic nature of the evaluation process had been compromised when those who came together to implement Step 3 – ‘Planning for the future’ were handed evaluands from workshop groups who had completed Steps 1 – Develop a mission, vision or unifying purpose for the program and Step 2 -Taking stock. On the principle of capacity building defined as program staff and participants learn how to conduct their own evaluations…significant gains in evaluation capacity was reported by personnel at the breakfast club level. Volunteer staff at one site designed and trialled an instrument which provided average nutrient uptake data which were subsequently used to modify food served to improve fibre intake. A negative aspect reported was that staff turnover at management level mitigated against evaluation capacity building in one region.
Hot Tip: Trustworthy relationships must be established for empowerment to occur. Community ‘champions’ committed to their communities, who use empowering processes and have good networks and communications skills, are vital partners. Ongoing commitment by senior management to nurture and support empowered staff by providing them with the resources necessary to remain so, is a ‘must have’ ingredient to avoid empowerment fade.
This week’s posts are sponsored by AEA’s Collaborative, Participatory, and Empowerment Evaluation Topical Interest Group (http://comm.eval.org/EVAL/cpetig/Home/Default.aspx) as part of the CPE TIG Focus Week. Check out AEA’s Headlines and Resources entries (http://eval.org/aeaweb.asp) this week for other highlights from and for those conducting Collaborative, Participatory, and Empowerment Evaluations.