Are surrogate cum participatory evaluations gender-socially transformative?

I do evaluations which I often call participatory. I have a consultation with the primary stakeholders on what should be evaluated, involve them in the process of evaluation, and analyse and validate findings with them. While it is participatory, the control rests with me, and I act as a proxy or surrogate for the marginalised women/girls, men/boys and transwomen/transmen.

However, being a "surrogate", do I really capture the voices of marginalised, which may be contradictory given the intersecting marginal identities. Further, given that marginalised women, men and transgender may hold attitudes which uphold patriarchal casteist, binary/homophobic values is handing over control over evaluation to marginalised good?  When should surrogate evaluation end, and true participatory evaluation which is also gender and socially transformative begin?   

In a participatory evaluation of a group savings and credit programme in Andhra Pradesh the members present were very happy with the programme and shared they had moved from being poor to non poor through repeated credit for livelihood, taking more land on lease for agriculture and expanding livestock base. They had collectively addressed cases of domestic violence against two of its 20 members. In the evening of the same day, when returning,  I met two other women who were members of the same group whose life had not improved much as they could not absorb livelihood credit and in fact got education loan for their children on the condition they leased their dry land to the leader of the group. The latter were from Dalit community, while the former came from OBC, BC and other communities. When this data was fed back at the end of the evaluation to group leaders without naming the group, the leaders pointed that they were "high risk", "risk averse" and they were helping by leasing their land. That is intersecting identities, lead to different perceptions which have to be sifted from a justice perspective.    

In another participatory evaluation the adolescent boys in Tamil Nadu observed that after life skill training they tried to dialogue for better basic services in Gram Panchayat on behalf of women and girls and they had formed a violence protection committee during festivals so that  boys form other villages did not  flirt and misbehave with "their village girls".  The adolescent girls group on the other hand observed that their brothers policed them even more now than before, and some did not see what was wrong if they talked to boys from other villages. The boys stated that they had stopped whistling at girls and teasing them,  and they were acting in their best interest by "protecting" them

These examples are given to highlight that participatory evaluation need not be gender and socially transformative, and the need for surrogate semi-participatory evaluation.  However it is important that "surrogate semi-participatory evaluators" remember that their role is temporary.  There will hopefully come a time  when inequalities do not exist and norms of gender/social justice prevails.  Further, they need to come out with recommendations as to how to move towards the same.   

The accountability of surrogate participatory evaluators is to social/gender justice and the ethos of participation


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Comment by Carol Miller on April 23, 2019 at 3:32
As always, super insightful, Ranjani. A good reminder that we all come to evaluation with our biases and that as feminist facilitators of participatory processes, a key value we uphold is that power relations must be challenged wherever we see them. I love the concept of the "surrogate" semi-participatory evaluator.

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