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Nineteen professionals committed to participatory evaluation came to a roundtable this past April to share ideas and experiences, increase understanding of, and perhaps contribute to, the “state of the art”, and improve the quality of their work. Held at Heifer Project International's learning center in rural Arkansas, this roundtable included case study presentations on applied techniques and theory, as well as small group work on training and skills needed by participatory evaluators, reconciling the needs and expectations of various stakeholders, and dealing with the dilemmas arising from inadequate time and resources for evaluation.

Training Participatory Evaluators
The first small group reported that in order to ensure the quality of data collected in participatory evaluations, evaluators need to be good facilitators, and have self-confidence, a “small ego”, and a personality that puts people at ease. Continual self-reflection, learning, and revising are also needed, as are professional standards, including evidence of continuing education and knowledge of essential tools, techniques, and methodologies. The group recommended mentoring with an “expert” for field experience and attending conferences in order to learn about, and participate in, the developing “state of the art” in participatory evaluation.

Reconciling Expectations of Stakeholders
This small group identified three primary purposes of participatory evaluation: to improve decision making and planning, to enhance self-reflection and process learning, and to ensure good use of resources. The following table outlines the expectations of different stakeholders for each purpose.

Participatory Evaluation Purposes & Stakeholder Expectations
Stakeholder Planning/ Decision Making Self-Reflection Use of Resources
Community improved benefits increased sense of ownership (empowerment) increased equity/ sense of ownership
Local Agency better training/ better management increased ownership and understanding of process sense of competence/ significance of their role
Local Government incentive and input for local policy changes sense of involvement in the program credit for material benefits gained by the community
Host Government directions for national policy/guidance in decisions about continuation of the program increased understanding of the role of non-government organizations (NGOs) attention and credit due to increased funds within their country
Implementing Agency better management/ increased funds feedback on the relevancy of their interventions increased knowledge about benefits and costs to the community
Donor input into decisions about future funding for the program assurance of project/mission consistency with donor goals feedback about cost/benefit

Heifer Project International is a 50-year-old, Little Rock-based organization that alleviates hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation through the gifts of livestock and training in sustainable agriculture throughout the world.

The third small group discussed problems that tend to plague participatory evaluations, such as inadequate time and resources, nonexistent or incomplete monitoring by management, incomplete baseline data, lack of consensus on the meaning of the words “participation” and “empowerment”, and personnel and management complications. They further discussed the dilemma of needing to reach conclusions while believing that the “truth” about the situation is highly elusive. The group developed a checklist to use to avoid or minimize some of these dilemmas.

  • Fit evaluation into a larger accountability structure—encourage people to use monitoring and baseline data for their evaluation.
  • Include all stakeholders in all phases of evaluation.
  • Develop consensus among evaluation team members on methodology, key definitions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations.
  • Schedule adequate time for each stage in the evaluation.
  • Clarify stakeholders' commitments to the evaluation.
  • Develop rapport with project participants.
  • Attend to team-building within the evaluation team.
  • Be sensitive to local context and local culture.

The group will meet next year, April 11-16, 1996, at the Heifer Project International's learning center in Arkansas. Anyone involved in evaluating community development and committed to a participatory approach is welcome. Contact Jennifer Shumaker, Heifer Project International (501-376-6836) or Jim Rugh, CARE (404-681-2552).

Jennifer Shumaker
Heifer Project International
Tel: 501-376-6836

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