Developing a participatory impact assessment approach and action research culture within a communication for social change organisation in Nepal
Lennie, June, Skuse, Andrew, & Koirala, Bikash (2009) Developing a participatory impact assessment approach and action research culture within a communication for social change organisation in Nepal. In Perspectives on Impact Evaluation : Approaches to Assessing Development Effectiveness International Conference, 31 March - 2 April 2009, Semiramis Hotel, Cairo.
Developing an effective impact evaluation framework, managing and conducting rigorous impact evaluations, and developing a strong research and evaluation culture within development communication organisations presents many challenges. This is especially so when both the community and organisational context is continually changing and the outcomes of programs are complex and difficult to clearly identify.-----
This paper presents a case study from a research project being conducted from 2007-2010 that aims to address these challenges and issues, entitled Assessing Communication for Social Change: A New Agenda in Impact Assessment. Building on previous development communication projects which used ethnographic action research, this project is developing, trailing and rigorously evaluating a participatory impact assessment methodology for assessing the social change impacts of community radio programs in Nepal. This project is a collaboration between Equal Access – Nepal (EAN), Equal Access – International, local stakeholders and listeners, a network of trained community researchers, and a research team from two Australian universities.
A key element of the project is the establishment of an organisational culture within EAN that values and supports the impact assessment process being developed, which is based on continuous action learning and improvement. The paper describes the situation related to monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and impact assessment before the project began, in which EAN was often reliant on time-bound studies and ‘success stories’ derived from listener letters and feedback. We then outline the various strategies used in an effort to develop stronger and more effective impact assessment and M&E systems, and the gradual changes that have occurred to date. These changes include a greater understanding of the value of adopting a participatory, holistic, evidence-based approach to impact assessment.
We also critically review the many challenges experienced in this process, including:-----
• Tension between the pressure from donors to ‘prove’ impacts and the adoption of a bottom-up, participatory approach based on ‘improving’ programs in ways that meet community needs and aspirations.-----
• Resistance from the content teams to changing their existing M&E practices and to the perceived complexity of the approach.-----
• Lack of meaningful connection between the M&E and content teams.-----
• Human resource problems and lack of capacity in analysing qualitative data and reporting results.-----
• The contextual challenges, including extreme poverty, wide cultural and linguistic diversity, poor transport and communications infrastructure, and political instability.-----
• A general lack of acceptance of the importance of evaluation within Nepal due to accepting everything as fate or ‘natural’ rather than requiring investigation into a problem.
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