Human to human: Community participation

This is my first blog post on this new website, which represents the start of a new chapter in my work as a consultant evaluator.  I’ve written blog posts before but this is my first go at expressing and reflecting on my role as an evaluator and the ways in which I am humbly learning on the job with the wonderful opportunities I have been given.

As the About Me page suggests, I am contracted by a range of non-government community health organisations (NGOs) to evaluate projects and initiatives they have the responsibility for running.  To be invited to observe and be involved with these projects is a privilege and joy for many reasons.  The forefront of those reasons for me are:

  • Community health, health promotion, community development programs attract incredibly motivated and passionate project workers who are inspiring to work with
  • These projects are designed for communities based on identified needs and gaps.  This means that I get to meet and interact with members of these communities as part of my job.
  • These projects most often address social issues and complex challenges that I feel deeply called to respond to and take an active role in

Ever since I became aware of the principles of a participatory approach to evaluation, I have been committed to utilising my role to promote and support the realisation of optimum levels of community involvement in projects and evaluation.  An optimum level is always the highest level of involvement and participation possible.  I’ve fast learned that this is both incredibly simple but requires more than just good intentions and there are systemic factors to consider and navigate.

I recently had the humbling experience of attending two community catch-up events, which were a part of two of the projects I am currently evaluating.  These experiences were such a lightbulb moment for me.

I realised that I did initially feel out of my comfort zone attending and participating in these events.  I couldn’t just go along in my ‘professional’ clothes and ‘act the part’ of a professional evaluator.  I soon realised I needed to relate one to one, human to human.  I realised that I had been doing a lot of ‘waiting for things to come together’ so that ‘things’ would be ready to extend the conversation about evaluation out into the community.   Actually, there was/is no need to delay anything.  Its just about having a conversation with other fellow human beings and building the relationship from there.

To me, community participation in evaluation is about having conversations with the people the program is designed to serve and asking them about their experiences of the program or project and what type of evaluation would be most valuable to them.  It was a great learning experience to realise that my good intentions to do this were not enough and I was actually putting obstacles in my own path, at the risk of leaving my comfort zone in order to actually have these conversations.

The way I work is similar to the way I live, which is to constantly reflect and be honest with myself.  I’ve learned its OK to be learning as I go.  Uncovering a vulnerability or discomfort about something is going to happen to all of us at various points of life and I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to put down the clipboard and relate to and with the people who come across my path in my work.

To be able to meet, sit next to, talk with, and collect stories from, real people face to face is humbling and moving indeed.

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