Why feminist evaluations?
The Evaluation conclave was an excellent opportunity where ISST played a pivotal role of bringing many development organizations on the same platform as many researchers and evaluators. It was a great opportunity to share our work and learn from other interconnected sectors. It was a great opportunity not only to meet, interact and learn from some veteran like Dr. Robert Chambers. His style of conducting the workshop took me back in time when I was a student.
The workshop on impact evaluation and theory of change was an interesting session as it elaborated on the how essential it is to have a clear theory of change and well defined interventions to achieve the desired impact. It also highlighted the relevance of a counterfactual and how it needs to be matched for some socio-demographic and economic indicators. The discussion on how external influences which are beyond the control of the program can be taken care with the selection of counterfactual was a participatory activity.
Technology, digital and social mediums have been very promising and have showcased some very successful methods of collecting information for monitoring and evaluation. Various open tools available free online were shared with the group which could be tailored to suit the needs of the users. This tool has a good potential to be used by especially the development organizations which lack resources. My take from these discussions was that those who understood technology could not comprehend well the needs of the users as many of the potential users worked in difficult field conditions and were not technology savvy. One thing which could be done moving forwards was to train the present M&E staff and program staff of many organizations on how to use these tools and they need to be mentored by the technocrats.
It was also felt that these methods need to be seen in the context in which they are being used and the societal dynamics. E.g use of mobile phone as a method to disseminate information was being deliberated without any background on who controls the devise and who is being targeted through the message. The discussion was initially more on how big the mobile penetration has been in all the South Asian countries and the scope of using it as an important vehicle for delivery of messages. I on behalf of Breakthrough shared the results of a small mobile research conducted in India where it emerged that literacy was very different from mobile literacy. The various applications like games and cartoons etc. could be used besides text based tools was interesting for many participants. Information was shared that in many countries the use of mobiles by un-married youth especially girls was like prohibited by the community elders which was very similar to our findings from many rural areas of India. The other challenge which emerged from this discussion was the differential understanding of various participants on using mobile as only a one way message dissemination tool and underestimating its two way interactive utility.
While various methods of data collection were discussed most of them either did not focus on the gender specific information or faced challenges in documenting such information. The other confusion which emerged from various discussions was lack of clarity on what meant by gender based evaluation.
The participants across the sessions used gender approach, feminist perspective, women rights approach at a very superficial level and these issues were not dealt in-depth by many of them. The ISST along with its funders IDRC and Ford had emphasized the need to address the issue of looking at various evaluations from the feminist lens. This feminist perspective will bring in change in the approach of many of these evaluations and will influence the recommendations emerging from these studies. Hence the group promoting the feminist evaluations needs to be part of the agenda setting and make consistent efforts at various platforms to try and integrate the feminist viewpoint.
The sessions presented by the feminist group members were appreciated by many participants as one of them said, “we never thought addressing gender issues in evaluations was so important”. The group members also shared the flyers and their view points with the participants on the work being undertaken by ISST for the Engendering project. This discussion on making the evaluations more comprehensive, forced researchers like us to think how the Monitoring systems also need to follow and complement this process. This approach mandates that from the point of drawing out objectives of the study to developing tools and finalizing research methods and drawing conclusions from the data sets all need to be relooked.
The status of the women in the South Asian countries is a known fact, in those settings evaluations need to be planned so as to address these issue more comprehensively. The Evaluation Conclave at Kathmandu was an experience which reinforced the need to focus on feminism in a big way. Most of the sessions where many presenters shared their experiences from their evaluations and many of them lacked the insights which the feminist approach brings. Many of these Evaluations conducted in the southern part of Asia addressed very pertinent issues from water and sanitation to health services. In these very pertinent areas if we miss out the opportunity to address the issues from the feminist perspective, the designing of the intervention and the policy level planning will lack in addressing these issues comprehensively.
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