There are very good reasons for adopting aparticipatory approachto evaluation. Greater participation draws on a wider pool of knowledge and diversity of experiences. It can lead to greater commitment to the evaluation process, ensure relevantinsightsto guide evaluation activity, and ensure later interest and commitment to using the findings of the evaluation.

In designing your evaluation it is important to be beneficiary centred. Involving beneficiaries in the development of outcome measures andindicatorswill make it more likely that you focus on the things that matter most. More widely you should also consult with all parties with a strong interest in, or influence on, your project – this is called 'engagingstakeholders'. These stakeholders can be interested individuals or organisations, including:

  • Managers, staff and volunteers
  • Other organisations in your field
  • Policy makers and politicians
  • Funders
  • Wider public

Stakeholder analysis and mapping, described in the Getting Started section of this toolkit, is a very useful technique to help identify and manage stakeholder relationships as part of evaluation and other forms of project and improvement activity.

It is critical to involve beneficiaries as fully as possible in evaluation activity, and as early as possible.

In its guide, Why Bother Involving People in Evaluation? Beyond Feedback, Evaluation Support Scotland has provided lots of information that will help to plan why, when, and how to involve the people you work with in evaluation.  It offers the following core principles of involving people you work with in evaluation.  These are to:

  •  Make a commitment to sharing power and responsibility
  • Respect all diversity
  • Enable and support people to participate
  • Recognise and make best use of individuals’ experience
  • Do no harm (at the very least)

Different levels of participation are possible, which will depend on the desires of beneficiaries to be involved.  It is possible to involve beneficiaries at every stage of the self-evaluation cycle.  

For example:

  • Contributing to the design of evaluation
  • Identifying specific topics or issues to explore
  • Deciding on appropriate evaluation research design and methods
  • Designing data collection tools, such as questionnaires or topic guides
  • Data collection/fieldwork
  • Data analysis and interpretation
  • Reporting findings
  • Shaping recommendations for action
  • Monitoring implementation of action plans

Think carefully about which aspects of the evaluation are relevant to beneficiaries and involve them in ways that make sense both for them and the circumstances of your organisation.  It is important to be realistic about what can be achieved through a participatory evaluation strategy and the degree of engagement that beneficiaries will want.  The point is to involve them in those discussions.

It is important to ensure that those who are included in the process are valued, listened to, and respected.  This means being aware of potential imbalances due to different levels of technical knowledge or perceived power.  It may be necessary to build in training to support the capacity of all those involved to take part in the evaluation activity. 

It is possible to involve a variety of other stakeholders in an advisory role, to act as a useful sounding board throughout.  From this you will receive useful inputs, receive wider attention, and ensure that results are widely shared and therefore more likely to be acted on.

When engaging stakeholders, target those who:

  • Are the focus of your work - your beneficiaries
  • Are important to success, e.g. staff and volunteers
  • Offer technical guidance as part of the evaluation process
  • Can influence how the findings from the evaluation are put into action
  • Have the ability to offer funding to act on recommendations

Participatory evaluation should be a real team effort.  After you engage the necessary stakeholders, you need to create a team of people who can support your self-evaluation activity.

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Resources

  • Better Evaluation provides a compact guide to managing an evaluation or evaluation system.
  • Evaluation Support Scotland Why Bother Involving People in Evaluation? Beyond Feedback.
  • The Scottish Health Council Participation Toolkit was compiled to support NHS staff in involving patients, carers and members of the public in their own care and in the design and delivery of local services.  It discusses the benefits of a participative approach as well as providing a guide to a number of different tools.
  • See Me and IRISS have developed a toolkit designed to support individuals, groups, organisations and communities to challenge stigma and discrimination across Scotland.  It has a range of resources to support participation more generally and discusses issues of power, human rights, and building sustainable networks.