Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Social Capital is a fundamental requirement for associations to work.

The IOCE has an EvaLeaders listserve which aims to connect key people across the worlds' evaluation associations. I took up the task of trying to think of something to do to get the discussion going. We settled for a "monthly discussion question" and after posting the first of the questions, we were met with a resounding silence.

A variety of hypotheses were shared in order to explain the silence, the most interesting one:

"Our first question assumed that those on the EvaLeaders list share a sense of community with leaders of other IOCE member evaluation associations, and thus would be willing to take the time to write something about what their group is up to... the reality check is that there is a long-term process involved".

Concepts like "Evaluation Community" and "Community of Practice" are frequently used when speaking about Evaluation Associations, but I certainly have not sat down to think of what this actually means in practice. I have not really come to terms with the fact that social capital is inherent in working networks... capital in all shapes and sizes are requried for a network to work. In a working network, more social capital is also easily created.

Evaluation Associations are social networks, and although we typically evaluate an association's effectiveness by the number of activities they present and by the size of their membership, the true value of an association is actually in the strength of the links between members. Its these links that make shared values and common activities possible. If something as abstract as "hapiness" can dynamically spread through social networks*, then surely values, knowledge and a whole host of other fuzzy, yet potentially important evaluation-aligned attributes can be transferred too.

The question is: How do you get the minimum social capital together to start a vibrant network? Are there social-capital loans available from the World Bank? How many in-kind donations would be required? :)

I'm afraid I have more questions than answers to ponder...

*"Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis ver 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study" written by James Fowled and Nicholas Christakis. (BMJ 2008;337:a2338 doi:10.1136/bmj.a2338)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Participatory Evaluation Design

I'm planning an evaluation planning meeting during which the intended evaluation users will design an organizational capacity evaluation. The organizations under scrutiny deliver services to the disabled (Or is the correct term "differently Abled"?). We will start with "drawing the road" (Ross Connor recently did a presentation on this at the Lisbon EES Conference) followed by the development of a stakeholder map, clarification of evaluation questions and the development of an evaluation matrix.

The evaluation matrix will outline the final evaluation questions, indicate which stakeholder need it addresses, and will also identify the data collection method and source. As a quality control exercise I'm planning to give the team a checklist that would ask the members whether the planned data collection meets some basic evaluation principles.

Some of the principles that I will try to incorporate:
• Independence: You cannot ask the same person in whose compliance you are interested, whether they are complying. The incentive to provide false information might be very high. You can ask school principals about the degree to which the Province has met their commitments, and you can ask parents whether the school charges money, but you cannot ask the school principal whether they are charging school fees if they have been declared a no-fee school.
• Relevance: Appropriate questions must be asked. You cannot expect a member of the general public (e.g. a parent) if the school is complying with the school funding norms – He / she is unlikely to know what these entail.
• Consider Systemic Impacts. Look broader than just the cases directly affected. No fee schools are not the only ones likely to be impacted by this specific policy provision. The schools in the area are also likely to be affected in some way.
• Appropriate Samples need to be selected. The sampling approach, sample size are all related to the question that needs to be answered.
• Appropriate methods need to be selected. Although certain designs are likely to results in easy answers, they might not be appropriate
• Implementation Phase: Take into account the level of implementation when you do the assessment. It is well known that after initial implementation an implementation dip might occur. Do not try to do an impact assessment when the level of implementation has not yet stabilised in the system.
• Fidelity: Take into account the fidelity of implementation, i.e to what degree the policy was implemented as it was intended.
• Quality Focus: Although a specific funding policy might have as a major aim to improve access to services, quality should always be a consideration. It is no use you have increased access to a service that never before delivered quality outputs, outcomes and impacts. Similarly it is no use that access to a good quality service improved, but due to the increased up-take of the service, the quality were negatively impacted.

I'll provide some feedback after the workshop