This week BetterEvaluation is at the Australasian Evaluation Society conference in Brisbane, Australia, where the theme is "Evaluation shaping a better future: Priorities, pragmatics, priorities and power".
A common thread through several sessions has been different ways of involving community members and intended beneficiaries in the process of making decisions about an evaluation.
Nan Wehipeihana, in her opening keynote address on Indigenous Evaluation, set out a framework of increasing control by Indigenous communities, as shown in this slide (reproduced by kind permission of Nan).
Evaluation done TO communities involves collecting data from them without involving them in any way in the decisions about the evaluation or in using it, and to meet the objectives of other stakeholders..
Evaluation done FOR communities is done with good intentions, to improve the situation for them, but with the evaluator making decisions about the evaluation without reference to their values about what is important or what constitutes credible evidence - Western world views prevail.
Evaluation done WITH communities involves some community members in the process of evaluation, but non-Indigenous people are in control of the process.
Evaluation done BY communities has Indigenous people in control of the process, but they are also accommodating Western values and notions of credible evidence.
Evaluation AS community is based on community views on what is valued and what constitutes credible evidence. It does not exclude Western values or notions of credible evidence but only as far as is seen to be useful. There is no automatic or presumed right of participation by non Indigenous people or approaches, only by invitation.
The rest of the conference has shown various examples of how these different levels of participation have been implemented in different evaluations.
Who is participating and in what?
Participation by the community in an evaluation does not only refer to providing data but to:
Deciding the purpose of the evaluation
Developing Key Evaluation Questions (KEQs)
Identifying evaluative criteria and standards
Deciding what will be credible and feasible evidence to answer KEQs
Decide how to share findings and support use
Who is participating?
Who participates in participatory evaluations?
Current program clients
Intended beneficiaries even if they don't participate in the program
Representatives of the client group, not actual current clients
Advocacy group supporting participation of vulnerable clients