Where Do I Begin? : Using Best Practices in Culture Change to Incorporate Participatory Evaluation Into Your Work by Elizabeth DiLuzio

Happy weekend! I’m Elizabeth DiLuzio – volunteer curator for AEA365, internal evaluator at Good Shepherd Services, and instructor of Quantitative Methods in Evaluation at New York University. Recently, a few people asked me what I think are the first steps to incorporating a participatory evaluation practice. Suspecting that this is a popular topic these days, I thought I’d explore this topic with you all.

Changing an organization’s culture is often challenging. People gravitate towards patterns and predictability due to comfort. Even in the face of inefficiency and discontent, people will be slow to make the changes needed to improve. This type of change can be difficult even when it yields results as positive as those that come from the use of participatory evaluation practices.

Rad Resource: See my previous AEA blog for an exploration of participatory evaluation and its benefits.

In general, the best place to begin is where the stakeholders are at. With what challenges do they struggle that better or more information can help to overcome? What questions do they have about their work or the world around them? What changes would they like to see in order to improve their lives? Discovering the answer to any of these questions will help you to determine the right place to start incorporating participatory practices.

Perhaps the most meta and effective way to find the answers to these questions is by holding a gathering that utilizes participatory structures. Before you call your group together, consider carefully who needs to be at the table. 

Rad Resource: Participatory Evaluation: Theories + Methods for Remote Work is a guidebook that offers participatory structures grouped by evaluation phase and adapted for remote work. The structures from Phase One: Ideation + Design can be helpful in planning the structure of your meeting.

Research on culture change identifies some important tips for culture change that you can begin to address from the very first meeting. Tips include:

  • Acknowledge Barriers – Solicit the help of your stakeholders to identify potential barriers to implementing more participatory evaluation practices into your work.
  • Create a Rationale for Change – Take the time to explain the value of participatory evaluation and how it can help the people in the room to address their most pressing concerns.
  • Explore Opportunities – Use an Ideation + Design participatory structure to gather feedback on the most pressing questions, concerns, challenges, or problems the group is interested in addressing.
  • Honor Strengths – Be sure to solicit and incorporate participatory structures based on the strengths  of the group (as opposed to focusing on what needs to change).
  • Take Small Steps – It will be alluring to dive right into the full participatory evaluation cycle. Take your time by identifying a few steps that can be taken at first. It’s important to do them carefully and well so that stakeholders have a positive experience.

Rad Resources: The tips above are curated from Influencing Behavior During Planned Culture Change: A Participatory Action Research Case Study and Culture Change That Works from the Harvard Business Review. Check them out for more in depth information.

Now it’s your turn: What have you found to be particularly effective when implementing participatory methods for the first time? Share with us in the comments below or in our Evaluators’ Slack Channel, where you can comment, share links, and even upload resources. It’s easy to join and free to use. We’ll see you there!


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.

3 thoughts on “Where Do I Begin? : Using Best Practices in Culture Change to Incorporate Participatory Evaluation Into Your Work by Elizabeth DiLuzio”

  1. Hi Elizabeth,
    Thank you for posting such an interesting article. I am currently enrolled in the Professional Master of Education Program in Queen’s University; and I work as an education consultant in an education agency. The topic you chose and the way you are discussing it are quite inspiring for me.
    To be honest, I have never conducted a participatory evaluation before but the concept you are talking about is helpful for both my course study and my work. In my workplace, there are a lot of potential problems slowing down the development of the business, however, the management team ‘gravitates towards patterns’ like you said. They refuse to take their first step or are not willing to bear any risk even if the outcome could bring great benefits to the company. Sometimes it is clear for an outsider (evaluators) to see that a company/project needs changes and improvements immediately. However, the management team (stakeholders in this case) may be reluctant to make their first step towards these necessary changes which will hinder the process of the use of participatory evaluation. The tips you gave about finding out the answers to the 3 important questions before actually entering into evaluation incorporation motivate me quite a lot. As the evaluator, we should find out the stakeholders’ challenges, struggles, questions, and specific changes they need so that we can communicate better and smooth things out. Just like what Shulha (1997) said ‘the tasks for evaluators, as described above, are: to learn whose attention to secure; where and in what ways findings will have to compete and how best to respond through the evaluation design’.

    Thank you.
    Best regards,
    Xinyi

    References:
    Shulha, L.M., & Cousins, J.B. (1997). Evaluation Use: Theory, Research and Practice Since 1986. American Journal of Evaluation, 18 (1), 195-208.

  2. Hi Elizabeth,

    Thank you for posting such an interesting article. I am currently enrolled in the Professional Master of Education Program in Queen’s University; and I work as an education consultant in an education agency. The topic you chose and the way you are discussing it are quite inspiring for me.

    To be honest, I have never conducted a participatory evaluation before but the concept you are talking about is helpful for both my course study and my work. In my workplace, there are a lot of potential problems slowing down the development of the business, however, the management team ‘gravitates towards patterns’ like you said. They refuse to take their first step or are not willing to bear any risk even if the outcome could bring great benefits to the company. Sometimes it is clear for an outsider (evaluators) to see that a company/project needs changes and improvements immediately. However, the management team (stakeholders in this case) may be reluctant to make their first step towards these necessary changes which will hinder the process of the use of participatory evaluation. The tips you gave about finding out the answers to the 3 important questions before actually entering into evaluation incorporation motivate me quite a lot. As the evaluator, we should find out the stakeholders’ challenges, struggles, questions, and specific changes they need so that we can communicate better and smooth things out. Just like what Shulha (1997) said ‘the tasks for evaluators, as described above, are: to learn whose attention to secure; where and in what ways findings will have to compete and how best to respond through the evaluation design’.

    Thank you.

    Best regards,
    Xinyi

    References:
    Shulha, L.M., & Cousins, J.B. (1997). Evaluation Use: Theory, Research and Practice Since 1986. American Journal of Evaluation, 18 (1), 195-208.

  3. Veronika Pienkowski

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Thank you for this post, and your previous one – Level Up: Growing Your Approach to Participatory Evaluation. I connected with this post in two ways as an elementary school teacher who is new to evaluation learning. One, I’ve implemented participatory methods in the past with students (even quite young students) and have found success. With students, your tips ‘create a rationale for change’ and ‘explore opportunities’ resonate with me as being very effective. I remember my students being open, curious and excited to share their voice in designing assessments; they took their participatory roles seriously and they often led the work. They became active collaborators and it was empowering to witness.

    The second way I connected with this post is as a teacher attempting culture change within my school, with school staff and administration. When working with colleagues or management, the tips ‘honor strengths’ and ‘take small steps’ have been more effective. There is vulnerability in letting old patterns go and starting slow and with a focus on what is working helps. I must say participatory methods with adults have been much more challenging than with students. Obviously, the rationale is different, there is more ego and more at stake. A colleague once gave me a tip – to start with the ‘open flowers’ which meant to start engagement with individuals in the group who are open, curious and excited for change (like our students!). Gather strength and momentum with those who are already ready for a challenge.

    Your tip about ‘acknowledging barriers’ is one I need to use more. I specifically think of acknowledging bias, privilege, lived experience… I also believe that we need to constantly challenge the status quo when delving into participatory methods as we collectively realize how harmful traditional methods (e.g. how we conduct meetings, who is asking the questions) can be to those we are intending to help.

    Thanks again for your post and question!
    Veronika

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