Participatory evaluation

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Gain robust insights and empower your stakeholders with a participatory approach to evaluation

Imagine if you could harness the power of strategies recommended and used by UN bodies and leading health institutions to build trust, boost stakeholder engagement and buy-in, and ensure your interventions deliver their objectives. Organisations of almost any size can benefit from participatory approaches to program evaluation. As experts in participatory evaluation, Larter can help you collect and unpack vital data, help build a shared understanding of your project among key stakeholders and help you to refine interventions that achieve measurable and sustainable results.

What are participatory approaches?

A participatory approach is one that involves stakeholders (an individual, group, or organisation affected by a policy or program), particularly the initiative/policy’s intended beneficiaries, in the evaluation process. The term applies to a wide range of participation types and programs across diverse sectors – including education, community development and health.

Participatory evaluation approaches empower stakeholders and consumers by enlisting them as co-evaluators. Successful participatory approaches are never a checkbox exercise – the intent must be genuine. A key resource, often in very short supply – time – is required to implement these approaches because they focus on relationship building, developing trust, and working with stakeholders as per their availability.

Advantages of a participatory approach

Participatory approaches have several benefits and much has been written about them, but two are of key importance.

  1. They promote a shared understanding

In complex projects, stakeholders tend to operate well within their own ‘bubbles’ of expertise but may lack an understanding of the bigger picture. A participatory approach helps ensure everyone is on the same page with program goals and strategies, and aware of their role in achieving the program’s ultimate objectives.

2. They foster empowerment

Unlike conventional approaches where evaluations are done to people or programs, participatory approaches are done with and for them. This is particularly vital in evaluations involving people from marginalised or under-serviced groups, such as those in the Indigenous health and mental health spaces. Involving intended beneficiaries in evaluation design, data collection and interpretation promotes confidence that the organisation commissioning the project wants to work with them, rather than do something to them – promoting greater buy-in.

Other benefits include:

  • A broader perspective on the need the project seeks to fulfil
  • Greater insight into why something does or does not work
  • Enhanced stakeholder ownership of the project
  • Greater creativity and collaboration.

Larter’s approach and experience

Larter has significant experience using end-to-end participatory approaches to deliver evaluations for clients in the government, education and health sectors, including peak bodies, primary health networks, Aboriginal health services and more.

We take a three-tiered approach tailored to each client’s needs and goals.

1. Program logic workshops

These expert-facilitated workshops bring stakeholders and lived experience advisors together to develop a shared understanding of your program. They give everyone involved an opportunity to share their thoughts, helping you name and frame the issue and refine an understanding of what the program is trying to achieve, and how to get there.

For example, Larter recently worked with a client in Far North Queensland to evaluate an early childhood intervention across eight schools. At the outset, we connected the health providers, school representatives and our client on Zoom to build a shared understanding. This made data collection much easier, as everyone understood and trusted the project’s purpose. As a result, we had stronger engagement with schools.

2. Co-design and iterative testing of data collection tools

To ensure your data accurately reflects the results you want to measure, we work with stakeholders delivering the program on the ground, expert advisors, and consumer representatives/people with lived experience to develop these tools. For example, we recently enlisted an Aboriginal-owned business as associate consultants to collect data in the remote Aboriginal community where the program was being implemented to ensure that data was collected in a more authentic manner, using methods such as individual conversations or yarning circles with groups of beneficiaries and their families depending on participant preference and comfort. This was supported by a data interpretation session between the associate consultants and our core evaluation team to ensure contextual data was recorded and understood.

3. Findings workshops

These provide an opportunity to share and interpret findings with stakeholders prior to finalising reports, helping to sense-check your results and ensure any recommendations are relevant and achievable.

Talk to Shantanu Sheshgir from our evaluation unit to explore how we can help your organisation assess the impact of your health or social program investments with a collaborative and participatory approach.