The MONEV Studio Indonesia and Evaluation Community of India organised the second in the series of quarterly book review online meeting on 28 January 2023. As a member of the Evaluation Community of India, I participated in the meeting as a commentator.
The book being discussed was Purposeful Program Theory by Sue Funnell and Patricia Rogers, a landmark book for development practice written in 2011. One of the authors, Prof Patricia Rogers, the founder and CEO of BetterEvaluation, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, was the key participant. In the review of the book, Mr Benedictus Dwiagus Stepantoro, an Associate of MONEV Studio, reflected on evaluators’ knowledge on alternate theories of change, and on collaborations with program theorists. He emphasised the need for raising the right evaluation questions and for developing Program Theory for setting up M&E system, and on trends in emerging theories.
For me, as a commentator on the book, the meeting was an opportunity for learning from Prof Patricia Rogers about her classic, pragmatic book. My perspective on the book was based on the priorities and participation of the ‘target’ marginalised communities in program design and evaluation, and how this reflects issues of gender, inclusion, and system change, and the ways to address power structures that determine what gets designed and measured. Having facilitated evaluations as a part of donor organisations, I found the book’s guidance on the traps of Theory of Change and measurement to be critical considerations on the realities facing communities, for or around whom programs are designed.
The book asks us to introspect on what we design, like on unintended results. Such results may sometimes lead not only to weak analysis and policies, but also may trigger backlash against those very vulnerable communities we work with. There is evidence from longitudinal studies on long-term projects, for instance on women’s SHG collectives, that show unintended health outcomes in livelihoods programs, but with backlash against women or girls getting agency and voice. These opportunities and risks can be factored into the program design and theories of action, and have monitoring in a collaborative process to include all stakeholders.
Integrating participation is important for evaluation professionals to move forward in an increasingly complex and polarized world, where the inequalities are increasing sharply and communication technology has become widely accessible. Also perhaps because I work a lot with rural women and girls, I feel most concerned about being able to integrate sensitive processes that have a positive impact on the lives of vulnerable communities.
When designing for system level transformative change at macro, policy level, it is important to consider ways of integrating micro level approaches that actually influence the process and impact. The context analysis and stakeholder mapping may be considered to be major consideration for better operationalization of the Theory of Action, based on which partnerships for implementation may be built. The issue of accountability and participation in design and monitoring are thus critical in ensuring that evaluation professionals develop a robust implementable design that can be monitored.
The process of the development of the Theory of Change itself can be collaborative, and can integrate collaborative monitoring and assessment actions in the program systems. This has been done in fairly successfully to an extent even in large scale programs. Perhaps the authors, theoreticians and practitioners can help us reflect more about the choices made by evaluators in future.
About the writer - Ratna Mathur is a member of Evaluation Community of India. She has led social development programming, grant-making, and management in senior leadership positions in non-profits and foundations. She works with a consultancy on program strategies, capacity building, and evaluations.
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