Assessment and Learning that Values the ‘Golden Goose’
Cutting across these key players are action points in which all have roles to play to carry forward the challenge of assessing and learning that strengthens social change. Many questions are still on the table calling for more precise insights, nitty-gritty dilemmas remain to be thrashed out, and thus practical hands-on work needs to be undertaken. The principles outlined in this document need to be fleshed out for different organisational set-ups, capacity levels and social change processes. For all those involved – activists, intermediaries, evaluators, donors – generating practical ideas and sharing inspiring examples is essential. This means investing in:
Concrete efforts to systematise and review the respective benefits and limitations of different grounded case studies that have enabled critically reflective learning and assessment.
Training efforts for social change organisations around the idea of how to assess social change, based on existing stock of experiences and approaches plus recognition of core non-negotiable principles and purposes.
Peer support opportunities for those in social change organisations to ask and receive ideas for addressing dilemmas and challenges on assessment and learning processes.
Seeding experimentation with particular combinations of approaches and methods with detailed documentation of the processes.
A new model of assessment and learning is needed that places developmental social change at the heart, rather than myopically focusing on the interim steps. SPARC refers to development as ‘the golden goose’ (Patel 2007) and urges a model of assessment and learning that places the goose at the centre, rather than its golden eggs. Assessing and learning about development as a process of social change means charting the ‘golden eggs’ that can be discerned, in the form of processes that multiply and serve increasing numbers, building capacities and provoking shifts of thinking in government as well as among the poor. However, by valuing only the eggs, the goose is in danger of serious neglect. Sheela Patel cautions: “With few insights about how to understand it and measure its level of maturity and sustainability, external assessment processes are too rigid to understand these dynamics. Sadly, the goose is often killed due to lack of understanding”. A model of assessment and learning that builds on the reflections in this document would be more effective at strengthening social change that tackles the persisting injustices about which all of and everyone in development should, in theory, be concerned.
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1 Mott 2003, p5.
2 This paragraph is based on Woodhill, forthcoming 2007.
3 An emergent property becomes apparent when several simple entities or processes operate in an environment but form more complex behaviours as a collective. Certain properties emerge that the entities/processes do not have themselves.
4 See http://www.kenyalink.org/sucam/
5 This section is largely based on a note written by C. Clark, V. Miller. S. Musyoki and L. VeneKlasen ‘Theme 2 Part One: Methods, Tools and Processes for Assessing Social Change’ to kick start the second thematic discussion of the ASC group.
8 ‘Complex’ is not the same as ‘complicated’. A complex system has many elements that can interact with each other and their environment. Complex systems display a level of organization without any external organizing principle being applied. Part of the system may be altered and the system may still be able to function. In complicated systems, parts have to work in unison to accomplish a function. A key defect in a critical part brings the entire system to a halt.
9 See http://www.ifad.org/evaluation/guide/annexd/index.htm for 34 M&E methods.
10 See http://www.idrc.ca/evaluation.
12 See http://www.philodialogue.com/dialogue.htm.
13 With thanks to Iñigo Retoloza Eguren for these insights.