Today’s workshop at the American Evaluation Association was on participatory methods, which covers a range of methods and approaches for use with populations that could be categorized as “vulnerable”: those living in poverty, not speaking or understanding the dominant language, identifying as LGBTQ, Aboriginal / First Nations, or a racialized minority, living in an area recently affected by a natural or man-made disaster, having a disability or illness … the workshop provided examples of over 40 such identities, and us in the audience were able to contribute many more to the list! A participatory approach moves beyond methods to incorporate an awareness of the evaluator’s attitudes and behaviours and an emphasis on sharing: rather than coming in as “the expert”, the evaluator focuses on facilitating discussion, respecting the experiences and knowledge of the participants, and forming an authentic partnership. My intention is always to enter relationships (be they professional or personal) in a way that honours our diverse experiences and perspectives, but it was a good reminder that there needs to be an explicit recognition of where we come from and how we can best work together.
Throughout the day, I noticed ways in which developmental evaluation and participatory approaches overlap or complement each other. In both cases, there is a recognition and sensitivity to lived realities: what I know as “the evaluator”, what the standardized approach or model describes and prescribes, does not necessarily match what is on the ground. One of the presenters today talked about previous approaches to international aid research which involved an external consultant coming into the context, “mining” information, and going back home to analyze it with no consideration of how the participants would make sense of the information. I suggested that a metaphor to describe participatory (and developmental!) evaluation would be “farming” or “cultivating” the data, an apt comparison as farmers need to be constantly aware of local conditions and work together to ensure the success of the harvest and the long-term sustainability of the land. As a bonus, that analogy fits well with my Strong Roots brand!
The end of this workshop marked the end of the professional development series for this conference – the rest of the conference consists of smaller-scale seminars, presentations, and roundtables in a more traditionally-academic style. I’m only staying for one more day, and I look forward to seeing what more I can learn in that time!