The people affected by the problem have to help define the solution

I posted earlier this week about the Hewlett Foundation's report and Seven Principles of Evaluation. (Check out comments to that post for another foundation report on evaluation, that one from the Gates Foundation)

Since then, I've had several conversations and given a few speeches to groups as diverse as GirlGeeks (here's a video of the speech) and community foundations, a local giving circle and within a single foundation board room. I'm also preparing for an upcoming Stanford #recodinggood charrette on Democracy and Philanthropy.

So participation is on my mind.

The headline of this post is a shorter version of something I say all the time. One thing we know about addressing community problems and making long term change is that those who will have to live with the solution have to be a part of putting it into place. Not just a part of defining the problem, but designing and implementing the solutions. Otherwise it is, at best, a band-aid.

Outside funders think they're being "inclusive" when they involve community members in meetings and brainstorms. Flip this on its head - communities can and should be inclusive about having funders and outside experts participate in their local efforts. Inclusivity cuts both ways and solutions need both insiders and outsiders.

The Declaration Initiative has a wonderfully clear statement about this on its website. More important, the approach is built into TDI's work. Here's how TDI talks about its evaluation principles:

"We have confirmed that if a project will affect a whole neighborhood or community, the participation of community members is key to developing strategies to address problems. Community residents must address questions about evaluating impact along with staff from nonprofits and government agencies, as well as donors.
A critical part of the process of ending poverty in the US must involve greatly expanding our notion of who must be engaged; what should be observed and measured; and how long the period of evaluation of long-term social change should last."
 And, as long as we're talking about inclusivity - here's a speech I gave on Data First Philanthropy in which (I hope) I make the case that such a shift is about much more than data, it's about inclusivity of ideas and people. Such shifts can start with data - imagine if program evaluators shared their data on Figshare so others could access it, think about it, and inform the analysis?


David Henderson said...

I agree with this idea, but cringe at the way this concept tends to get implemented. Community input means trying to figure out what the community as a whole thinks (that is, the median thoughts), but too often we seek the input of what are effective outliers.

Truly including the thoughts of a community requires a sound strategy for sampling opinions in such a way to limit the risk of selection bias, what those on the fringes of any type of community think might be quite different from what most people of that sub-population believe.

Mazarine said...

I believe that instituting ratios of the kinds of people that we serve on our nonprofit boards will allow us to have a greater impact on societal problems.

Look at what has been done with aid to Africa over the last 30 years. Americans have sent T-shirts. Shoes. Toothpaste. And a number of other items that could have been created in Africa. Making the manufacturing industries wither away due to an influx of free American goods. Sent with the best intentions, but economically devastating. Whenever you misplace resources, you disrupt the economic balance of a community.

You don't have to take massive samples of what people think from the population to come up with a solution. You can have different people, over time, sitting on your board and giving their perspective, as people who have actually experienced the problems you are trying to solve. I would go so far as to say if you're trying to solve a problem such as children finishing elementary school or high school, have parents of those children and a teenager on your board.

What do you think?


PS. I've written before about how quotas on our boards can help change the face of management,

and how naive aid to africa is misplaced