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.

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