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Nothing for us without us: Fostering an Environment for Learning and Evaluation

Published 07/30/2013 by Global Communities

Nothing for us without us: Fostering an Environment for Learning and Evaluation

Tools to empower marginalized communities. In Pune, 1000 women were trained to survey their neighbors. Each volunteer surveyed 25 households, collecting data on nearly half a million people in 360 slums. This data was aggregated into a GIS system and housed within the city government and used to reveal patterns in the conditions of these slums. More powerfully, the data was given back to the women who collected it and they were taught how to organize conversations about common problems. They were taught how to seek consensus, prioritize issues, mobilize local resources and advocate with government for additional resources. As a result 128 community-identified projects benefiting 125,000 people were implemented. These projects addressed infrastructure, education, livelihoods, social issues and social amenities.
The Global Communities SCALE-UP program in India, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was designed to improve living conditions for the growing number of urban residents that reside in “slum conditions”, where housing and neighborhoods lack access to basic services like water and sanitation. SCALE-UP did this by giving voice to these communities in local urban planning processes and by building the capacity of organizations representing the urban poor, mainly local non-governmental organizations, that bridge the divide with local governments. Global Communities developed and implemented an evaluation methodology that combined traditional process evaluation methods with structured self-reflective learning in order to foster real-time feedback into the programs and ensure that the evaluation findings were not simply extracted for external audiences. In this session you will hear the stories of learning from the diverse individuals that participated in this program evaluation method.
Like the objectives of the SCALE-UP program, the implementing team sought an evaluation method that was similar in approach which was inclusive and build relationships amongst various stakeholders, and fostered real-time feedback for all stakeholders. The SCALE-UP process evaluation sought to answer the question “in what ways does the project integrate voice(s) of the poor (or not)?  Through this inquiry, the program utilized learning journals, reflective sessions and various other methods.  
The evaluation of the SCALE-UP program, therefore, adopted  spirit of empowerment and participation by implementing Utilization-Focused Evaluation and participatory and empowerment evaluations. 
Utilization-focused evaluation helps evaluators select the most appropriate content, model, methods, theory and uses for the particular situation. The SCALE-UP program utilized an open ended evaluation process that enabled the stakeholders to openly share their views, learnings and feedback. In addition to focus groups and in-depth interviews, they also organized self-reflective learning teams that met every month to reflect on the evaluation questions. This fostered real-time feedback for all stakeholders.

Staff and grantees were asked to reflect on evaluation questions for real time feedback. “There is no single voice of the poor. It simply doesn’t exist. Their preferences vary just as much as any middle or upper class community.” – Zigisha Mhaskar, Program Manager
Participatory and empowerment evaluation processes requires stakeholders’ commitment and time and seeks to honor the perspectives, voices, preferences, and decisions of the least powerful and the most affected stakeholders and program beneficiaries. SCALE-UP utilized participatory evaluation to allow groups to:

Improve program performance – reflective and action-oriented processes

Empower participants – local people control and own the process

Build Capacity – promotes learning and information sharing among stakeholders
Brian English, Director of Program Innovation presented Nothing for us without us: Fostering an Environment for Learning and Evaluation at the American Evaluators Association. He sums it up by saying: “Rather than create a one-way information flow where evaluators only collect information, analyze it and return it for consumption, I felt that everyone involved with the program should be supported to interact, collaborate, create content and learn. I was inspired by the web 2.0 movement taking shape that enables user generated content, collaboration, and learning. There is a saying amongst some advocates of the urban poor, ‘nothing for us, without us.’ This captures the approach I tried to take towards the learning agenda.”