Reshape How We Think about Development and Evaluation

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

Background of Consultation

The Online Consultation to Strengthen Community Ownership was held on Saturday, July 24th 2021 from 10.30am to 12.00pm IST. This consultation was organized by the Asia Pacific Evaluation Association (APEA) in collaboration with Eval4Action, EMPower, The Constellation, EvalIndigenous and the Asia Pacific Communication Hub (APC). The Asia Pacific Regional Evaluation Strategy has eight themes and Strengthening Community Ownership in Evaluation is one of the eight themes. The consultation was moderated by Hasithi Samarasinghe, Co Leader of EvalYouth Sri Lanka. Around 90 participated in this consultation from Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe representing Community, NGO, academia, evaluation professionals, funding agencies, VOPE, and students made a compelling case to shift decision-making power back to the community.

The objectives of this consultation are as follows:

  • To create awareness of the importance of strengthening community ownership in evaluation studies.
  • To develop individual actions and actions by community and organizations for community ownership in evaluation for the Asia Pacific Region.

The opening remarks for this consultation were given by Randika De Mel, Co Leader of EvalYouth Asia and Sri Lanka and Marco Segone, Director, Evaluation Office of UNFPA. The Eval4 Action torch was passed from East and South East Asia to Communities in Asia Pacific. On behalf of communities in Asia pacific, the torch was accepted by Ribansi Nongbsap and Rida Kurbah, indigenous youth community members from India, Udeshika Jayapali, Sri Lanka Evaluation Association Indigenous Community Project Lead and Jhank Shrestha, General Secretary of Nepal Evaluation Society. Two youth, one representing the indigenous Khasi community from Ri bhoi District, Meghalaya India who accepted the Evaluation torch said that they were honored to accept the torch on behalf of the community. NGO Faith Foundation facilitated youth participation under Global Fund for children project.

Further, a discussion on “What Do We Understand by Community Ownership?” was facilitated by Rituu Nanda, Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning & Community Processes Consultant, Global Fund for Children/ISST. During this discussion, few participants expressed their views on how community ownership should be defined.

Additionally, examples of projects in Sri Lanka (Case Study of the Rathugala Non-Commercialized Indigenous Community and Child Evaluators from Save the Children) and India (Girl Led Research Presentation from EMpower and Presentation from Voluntary Health Association of Assam/Constellation) were shared on how these projects have engaged communities in evaluation studies.

During the consultation, the participants were divided into seven groups and they came up with tangible actions in order to realize the dream of communities taking ownership in evaluation.

Furthermore, the reflections for this consultation was given by Ian Davies, Former President of the European Evaluation Society and Jayanthi Pushkaran, Senior Program Officer, Adolescent Girls EMpower-The Emerging Markets Foundation. The summary and closing remarks for this consultation was given by Bhuban Bajracharya, President of Nepal Evaluation Society. Finally, actions developed during this consultation will be used to strengthen community ownership in evaluation in the Asia Pacific Region by involving communities and community-based organizations.

What does authentic ownership actually look like?

We started with the discussion that participation is a spectrum and reflected on models like Arnstein’s ladder of participation and dimensions of collaborative inquiry from Weaver & Cousins (2004).

Participants arrived at their definition of community ownership and also used the terms like Active citizenship, Community-led, and community-initiated evaluation. “We need to move from extractive processes to inviting the community to share the decisions, said Bhubhan Bajracharya.

All agreed that ownership is transferred when the people have the power to influence the decision concerning their development. Community ownership of evaluation is about the total involvement of the community in all stages of evaluation from the planning to data collection, analysis, and dissemination, and decision-making. The community through its representatives, i.e. from the various social groups in the community, and from different classes within the community, know the purpose of evaluation and how it would be conducted and how they would help define it, implement it and analyze the findings and take it forward. Participants emphasized that consideration of the community ideologies (beliefs, norms, values) in the evaluation process is critical. In a nutshell, it is a process where the community can own the evaluation, the meaning of it, and make decisions about what they want to evaluate and why.

“Commitment to social justice and a fair allocation of resources, opportunities, obligations, and bargaining.”-Participant

“Engaging community ownership is transferred when the people have power to influence the decision concerning their development.”– Participant

Who is the ‘community’ in community ownership?

Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority”― Soren Kierkegaard . Power dynamics, including inequities, race, gender, ethnicity, class, rank, and privilege exist in communities. Arnstein wrote in 1969 that participation without redistribution of power “allows the power holders to claim that all sides were considered but makes it possible for only some of those sides to benefit.” For the powerless, it is an “empty and frustrating process.” Participants cautioned that in the name of participation, powerful community representatives could hijack the agenda. Therefore, evaluation professionals need to take note of these power structures and carefully facilitate who speaks for the community when the approach is participatory. When even the youngest and the oldest, indigenous or person with any sexual orientation, disability or race are also able to share their opinion, said a young evaluator. “Voice of marginalized communities in evaluation is vital,” stressed Marco Segone.

Misuse of the concept “Empowerment’ Participants felt that the term empowerment has been watered down to what we ‘do’ to the communities. A participant from Kenya said that the question is can people be empowered – given that they have the power within them. Participants observed that instead, we support people to meet their full potential and give back power and opportunities that were taken by us.

Why community ownership in Evaluation? Participants felt that the meaningful involvement of community creates transparency, trust, and ownership of evaluation. The process helps the community to understand their own problems, take action and in turn, also grasp evaluation. Added Marco Segone, “When communities and citizens take ownership of development programmes and their evaluation, it empowers them, strengthens equality and sustainability.”

Accountability from the community is equally important – They measure their own progress as a collective. When the community is involved right from the inception of the programme to evaluation, they take onus for their dreams and their problems, said Ruchira Neog. They assess where they stand, action, and then re-evaluate themselves. The community realizes that it is their responsibility and work together for themselves as well as their family and environment.

Embed community ownership in the system Normally with short evaluation time frames, in-depth community ownership is not feasible deliberated the participants. Jayanthi Pushkaran mentioned that increased pressure on funding recipients for outcomes has led to a greater emphasis on results. This has, in turn, pushed implementers and evaluators away from participatory approaches. Therefore, most felt that participation has to be institutionalized in the system. Jhank Shrestha underlined the importance of community engagement (not in isolation) – right from conceptualization, project development, implementation, and M&E.

What is the role of Evaluators and development practitioners?

Change ‘our’ mindset The didactic approach from a knowing/knowledgeable subject to a supposedly ignorant ‘target audience’ should go. Participatory tools will be mere tools if we do not shift our mindset to a strength-based thinking that communities understand are capable of evaluating and finding their own solutions. “Girl knows herself better than anyone else…girls know what is impacting them”, Shireen who presented the girl-led research. This means we acknowledge that the WAY communities make these decisions may be different than what we expect.

Facilitation – A participant underlined that “To me, community-owned evaluation is when the need for the evaluation emerges from the community, they take charge of what they want to evaluate and how it will be done, we only support the processes.” “We should not define their problems AT ALL we are facilitators,” underlined another participant.

Enabling space where voices are considered regardless of status We create an enabling space for communities to become part of every stage of evaluation. Community dialogues are held on evaluation without any pressure. When community has the confidence to express their ideas and feelings… a learning environment emerges.

Strengthen community capacity We must support by building the communities expertise and resources so that they can evaluate anytime with little or no support from outsiders. ‘Each one, teach one’ was one idea where communities can spread this knowledge. We need to change the jargon a language we use as evaluators. “Strengthen empowerment and transformative approaches to evaluation which keep communities at the center of evaluation” said Marco Segone.

Evaluators have to make a case for social justice and a fair allocation of resources, opportunities, and bargaining power for communities. “As a first step towards this, we must raise the importance of communities amongst broader evaluation circles, evaluation community, policymakers, funding agencies, and most importantly amongst the communities.” noted Marco Segone.

Principle of ‘No one left behind’ in SDGs -Marco Segone noted that changes in people’s lives happen at the community level. The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out decades of global development. The vulnerable have been impacted the most. Those marginalized have been left further behind. This has derailed the delivery of SDGs. A critical way to set course again is to put communities and citizen participation at the center of development, including in evaluation. During evaluation processes, indigenous knowledge of communities can help to capture how development programs work, what does not work and for whom and why.

Examples and resources shared during the consultation

  • Social media campaign for community of volunteers in a locality in the Philippines that seeks to amplify the community initiatives planned, and implemented by themselves. (courtesy Khristina Erika Clavido)
  • Girl-led research facilitated by EMpower
  • Voluntary Health Association of Assam and Constellation- community ownership in the whole programme on routine immunization
  • Child-led monitoring facilitated by Save the Children
  • ​​Project funded by Humedica International and implemented by a local partner in district sanghar in Sindh province Pakistan.
  • Outcome Harvesting as a participatory methodology

Action points– the participants developed an action plan at the individual and organizational level.

A call to re-distribute power If we want our future generations to thrive, and undo the damage to our planet, we need an entirely different approach to problem-solving. We need to challenge our assumptions about power and re-examine who has a voice in making decisions. Ian Davies commented that “we in fact take power away, and we have taken power away. This is the societal ‘we’. So, it is not so much about empowering stakeholders, but it is about giving back the power that was taken from them and more specifically from right holders.”

Can we create collaborative systems with authentic participation of diverse voices, not just the strongest? “No one explains your story better than yourself”, said one participant. Let citizens and communities create their own future, learn from lived experience, measure their progress, then will they take responsibility for our planet.

(This discussion was a part of consultation held by Community ownership in the evaluation action group of Asia Pacific Evaluation Association (APEA), one of the eight action areas, under APEA’s regional evaluation strategy. Watch the recording here


Rituu B Nanda

Rituu works for Global Fund for Children and Institute of Social Studies Trust. She believes in the capacity of communities to respond to their own issues.

Randika de Mel

Randika currently serves as a board member of Sri Lanka Evaluation Association. He is also a co- leader of EvalYouth Asia and EvalYouth Sri Lanka

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