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Managing community practicePrinciples, policies and programmes$

Sarah Banks, Hugh L Butcher, and Paul Henderson

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9781861343567

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781861343567.001.0001

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Participative planning and evaluation skills

Participative planning and evaluation skills

Chapter:
(p.137) eight Participative planning and evaluation skills
Source:
Managing community practice
Author(s):

Barr Alan

Publisher:
Policy Press
DOI:10.1332/policypress/9781861343567.003.0009

Abstract and Keywords

Participative planning and evaluation skills are key elements in the process and management of community practice. This chapter emphasises the importance of evaluation in developing good community practice, and draws on two participative models — Achieving Better Community Development (ABCD) and Learning Evaluation and Planning (LEAP) — which can be applied to both the planning and evaluation stages of programmes or projects. It outlines the importance of involving relevant stakeholders in designing and implementing evaluation.

Keywords:   ABCD, LEAP, good community practice, evaluation skills, stakeholder, participative planning

Introduction

Participative planning and evaluation skills are key elements in the process and management of community practice. In the contemporary context the community practice manager is subject to the same trends for demonstrable accountability and performance measurement that have become a defining feature of organisational practice in recent years. It is essential, however, that responding to these requirements does not compromise commitment to the principles of community practice.

Perhaps most significantly for those who manage and engage directly in community practice, the emergence of Best Value assessment, both as a government policy and a statement of principle, has directly affected not only those employed in the state sector but also those in the voluntary, community and private sectors who are increasingly contracted to promote state programmes. While Best Value is committed to the demonstration of efficiency and effectiveness, it is also concerned with users’ perspectives on the quality of services provided. As such it presents a dual view of accountability. It is not simply that community practice managers and practitioners are accountable through hierarchical organisational power structures or contract compliance; they are also required to recognise that the public has a legitimate interest in the quality of service and, hence, should be viewed as a stakeholder with a crucial contribution to make to performance measurement.

How the public exercises its stakeholder interest depends on the way in which agencies and practitioners engage with it. Increasingly, for example, it is recognised that it is not enough simply to institute more accessible complaints procedures or sample opinion through consumer satisfaction surveys, important as these may be. More active engagement with community representation is required. Hence, policies like Best Value have become associated with broader principles of community participation and partnership. At the same time emerging government policy on promoting social inclusion and social justice has given particular emphasis to the participation of excluded and disadvantaged (p.138) social groups. These wider policies have given substantial impetus to the development of community practice. Such practice is subject to the broader culture of performance evaluation but, to be credible, the approach adopted must reflect the participative and inclusive principles that underpin the policies.

However, there is another significant consequence of inclusion policies that has a bearing on the scope of a discussion of participative planning and evaluation. Inclusion policies have encouraged communities to develop the skills and confidence to take more direct responsibility for addressing their own needs. Hence, they have given impetus to a growing social economy and reinforced a broader trend towards pluralism in delivery of local services. Community organisations that have in the past primarily represented and promoted the interests of local groups have been encouraged to play a growing role, often contracted by the state or funded through the Community Fund, as service providers in relation to community needs.

The relationship with this growing sector is an important one for community practice managers and practitioners. Some local people will be employed within this sector, many others will be responsible for the contractual relationships involved. Both groups should have an active interest in performance evaluation, but it is important to recognise that this should involve mutuality between them and engagement with the wider community. It is not adequate to see evaluation simply as a means by which service providers are accountable to those that commission the services. The manner in which commissioning agencies engage with the development of the community sector should equally be under scrutiny. Both sets of activities need to be assessed from the perspective of the intended beneficiaries in the community.

All of these introductory comments present managers and practitioners with some important challenges. How do they develop an approach to performance evaluation that reflects the participative, partnership and empowerment principles of community practice? How do they also ensure that their approach is sufficiently rigorous? How do they do this in a way that promotes continuous learning and improvement? How do they integrate and/or negotiate the perspectives of different stakeholders? How do they use these skills not only to fulfil the vision of a learning organisation within their own agencies, but move beyond this to a concept of complex partnerships as learning systems that are built on mutual accountability? These are difficult, challenging questions that have faced community programmes and projects for many years. Indeed, it can be argued that the attention being paid to effective planning, monitoring and evaluation was long overdue. Weaknesses in these areas had been identified before, notably in the 1970s when government had provided significant investment in a national community development programme – the Community Development Programme. Furthermore, community work in the UK had been heavily criticised by a leading American commentator for its lack of structure (Specht, 1975, p 69).

The aim and intention of this chapter is to critically reflect on and provide some pointers to good practice in both the management and operational (p.139) procedures of community practice activity. It will do so by evaluating the experience of using two frameworks for planning and evaluation developed respectively for community development and community education – Achieving Better Community Development (ABCD) (Barr and Hashagen, 2000) and Learning Evaluation and Planning (LEAP) (Barr et al, 2000).

Background to the planning and evaluation frameworks

Both ABCD and LEAP have been extensively applied in community development and community education and, respectively, have been the subjects, of UK/Ireland and Scottish government-funded cascade training programmes. Their preparation reflected concern in government agencies in Northern Ireland (DHSS, 1993) and Scotland (Scottish Office, 1998), from which they were commissioned, that community development and education frequently failed to provide systematic evidence to demonstrate the changes that they claimed. The Scottish review, for example, argued that:

The need to identify outcome measures … cannot be overemphasised. There should be a framework of targets and quality assurance for all provision. The general approach should be to establish the baseline, objectives and timescale for development revisiting as necessary to show that progress is being made and to adjust approaches. Clear and public targets, with success monitored and published, will go a long way towards providing the transparency and accountability that is now required.

(Scottish Office, 1998, p 29)

From the Scottish review the message was clear. While government was building community development and education into its strategies for social inclusion, health equalities, neighbourhood regeneration, lifelong learning and active citizenship, practitioners were under notice that evidence-based performance measurement would be a condition of sustained investment.

There can be no doubt that community practice is now expected to demonstrate these qualities. However, the manner in which they are demonstrated also needs to be consistent with the underlying principles of community practice. Thus, in developing the planning and evaluation frameworks, attention was paid to existing literature that might provide pointers to good practice. Indeed, the frameworks owe a major debt to previous work on planning and evaluation in community development (Feurstein, 1986; Erskine and Brientenbach, 1997). In particular they adopt principles of participative planning and evaluation and emphasise the importance of evaluating both the process and the outcomes of development work. In a climate in which there often seems to be heavy emphasis on target or goal-based planning, these influences are critically important. They do not deny the central importance of clear visions of the changes to be achieved in terms of impact on social or economic exclusion and its consequences. Further, they emphasise that if community development is about empowering communities it must (p.140) equally be measured by the participative manner in which such targets are identified and achieved. Similarly it must pay attention, not only to whether particular goals have been achieved, but also to the overall impact and effects of the action taken, recognising negative as well as positive results.

Exploring the ABCD and LEAP frameworks for planning and evaluation

The ABCD and LEAP frameworks share common underlying principles, several of which are considered in more detail later. The most important of these are that community practice must be:

  • developed to address community needs and build on community strengths;

  • planned on the basis of a shared vision between stakeholders of the intended outcomes of change;

  • promoted with clear agreement on the inputs that each stakeholder will contribute, the joint process with which they will engage and the specific outputs they will deliver;

  • evaluated in a participative manner for the purpose of learning for more effective change.

At this initial stage it may be helpful to clarify the use of the terms inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes and the relationship between them:

  • inputs: the resources used to formulate or execute a policy, programme or project: people, buildings, equipment, funding, and so on;

  • processes: the manner in which the inputs are applied to achieve the intended outputs: how we go about it;

  • outputs: the specific products of the process activities involved in a programme or project: what we actually do;

  • outcomes: the effects of the outputs: the difference we make.

In the LEAP framework the principles identified above are translated into the flow diagram opposite (Figure 8.1) that sets out a series of steps for planning and evaluation.

The diagram assumes that community needs have already been identified. Planning and evaluation are presented as integrated activities that operate in a cyclical manner.

Step 1

For planning and evaluation it is the outcomes sought that should be considered first. They provide the vision of change for communities to which all other aspects of activity are directed. Hence the first step is to identify the outcomes that it is hoped will be achieved. Since these are the reasons for doing the (p.141)

Participative planning and evaluation skills

Figure 8.1: Steps in a planning and evaluation framework

(p.142) work they become the critical focus for evaluation activity. It is very important to understand that it is outcome performance that is critical. Too often evaluation focuses on output performance. This is pointless because outputs are instruments for achieving outcomes. They are not ends in themselves. Their usefulness can only be assessed in terms of whether they produce the desired effects.

Identifying the desired effects that community practice should have is the responsibility of all the participants and particular priorities can only be distilled in the context of the specific conditions in a particular community (whether of geography, interest or identity). Extensive focus group investigation in the development of LEAP and ABCD indicates that, among community practitioners and community activists, there is nonetheless a broad consensus about the dimensions of quality of life in a healthy community.

In the ABCD framework these are described as:

  • a learning community achieved through personal empowerment;

  • a fair and just community achieved through positive action;

  • an active and organised community achieved through community organisation and volunteer support;

  • an influential community achieved through participation and involvement structures;

  • a shared wealth achieved through community economic development;

  • a caring community achieved through social and service development;

  • a safe and healthy community achieved through community environmental and health action;

  • a creative community achieved through artistic and cultural development;

  • a citizen’s community achieved through local governance and development.

Identifying what needs to change will involve exploration of needs in relation to one or more of these areas.

Step 2

Once community managers and practitioners are clear what they are trying to change, the next step is to think about how they will know whether they have got there. In order to do this it is necessary to be clear about where they started from – what are the baselines against which progress will be measured. This is important in order to benchmark progress. It is then necessary to be clear what sorts of measures and indicators will be used. A measure is a form of evidence that demonstrates a direct connection between what has been done and what has resulted from the action. An indicator is a form of evidence that can only suggest that there may be a connection. In community practice people are generally more reliant on indicators than measures because there may be many influences that could have had a bearing on the outcomes observed. The evidence will become more persuasive as several indicators suggest a connection, but it may still not be possible to prove it.

(p.143) Consider a neighbourhood campaign to improve personal safety involving initiatives such as self-defence training, improved street lighting, greater local police presence, a concierge system in high rise flats and improved youth facilities. Here, those involved might look for changing levels of reported crime against people or property, perceived threat of crime, level of use of public facilities or engagement in community activities. All of these could suggest that safety has increased but none of them is, in itself, proof. Even changes in the level of reported crime do not convey that crime has actually been reduced – people might simply have decided that there is little point in reporting it. Hence a range of evidence is necessary to give confidence about the benefits of undertaking activities.

Setting out indicators and measures at the start directs attention towards focussed collection of relevant evidence. It also helps to cement the relationship between stakeholders as they reach agreement as to what will be seen as satisfactory indicators or measures of change, and who will be responsible for collection of which aspects of the evidence.

Step 3

The third step has three parts. These are: to identify the outputs; the processes to be adopted and the inputs that will be required in order to achieve the intended outcomes. Here those involved will be concerned with how they will engage with individuals and community groups, the level of investment that will be made and by whom. Though ultimately community practice must be measured by its outcomes, it is necessary to know what the relationship is between the methods used, the investment made and the outcomes that result. The evaluation, therefore, needs to encompass assessment of the inputs, processes and outputs.

Decisions about inputs, processes and outputs are interactive. Action must respond to needs but also be realistic about the inputs that can actually be made available. Hence, in the flow diagram these aspects of the cycle are encompassed within the large circle to signify that it will be necessary to find a balance between inputs, processes and output targets. Inputs, outputs and processes should be realistic but they also have to be worthwhile and relevant to the intended outcomes. The process and work need to be driven by a shared vision for change rather than the resources that are available, but it is possible at this stage to realise that over-ambitious outcomes have been set. In this case it is essential to return to Step 1 and revisit the question: what needs to change?

Looking in more depth at inputs, it is important to stress the need for clarity about who will control them, what is actually available, from whom, over what period of time, and with what conditions attached. It may be valuable to undertake a formal audit of the collective resources that are available from different contributors and in particular to identify any gaps that are apparent. For example, there might be the need for a crèche resource to support participation in a community conference on recreation and play. Such gaps (p.144) will require consideration of where appropriate resources might come from and may necessitate the seeking out of new partners. If it is not possible to plug such gaps, interventions that are dependent on them are unlikely to succeed.

Thinking about the processes that will be adopted, these can be viewed at two levels. First, the overall approach of intervention can be highlighted: personal empowerment, positive action, community organising and volunteer development, participation and involvement structures, community economic development, social and service development, community environmental and health action, community arts and cultural development, local governance. Second, within each of these there will be a wide variety of potential styles and methods of working that will often be used in combination, for example: promotion of dialogue and reflection, provision of information and advice, training, network development, action research, personal support, mediation, advocacy.

It is crucially important for those who manage, and engage, in community practice to appreciate and understand that the way in which work is conducted reflects values. Too frequently these remain implicit, indeed sometimes they may even be subconscious. Since the purposes of community practice encompass a clear set of values that is reflected in policies for social inclusion and justice, deciding the approach to intervention requires openness and explicitness. If this is not done it will be found that the processes adopted contradict and undermine the intended outcomes of actions. It is not that attention to process becomes an end in itself (a not uncommon criticism of community practitioners) but that it is needed to enhance the probability of successful outcomes.

Of course, it is what is actually done, as much as the way that it is done, that is critical. Actions or outputs are the instruments of change. Just as it is necessary to know who will contribute which inputs, so it is necessary to be clear who will be using these resources and in what ways. Outputs can be defined in quite precise terms. A community conference will be organised at a particular time and date with specification of its structure, content, participants and so on. An information pack can be planned with clarity about content, format and style, date of publication, print run or distribution. It is important to be explicit about the outputs that will be delivered.

If it is known what has to be done it is much easier for the participants to play their role in implementing these plans. If there is agreement as to what others will do they can be held to account for delivering it. Mutual accountability is a key to effective practice partnerships. Measurable and time-scaled outputs are the basis for completion of Step 4.

Step 4

The fourth step is to identify measures and indicators that will convey and indicate whether the planned activities have been carried out in the manner intended. The management of the process will incorporate the setting of specific targets for when, where and how the planned activities will be undertaken.

(p.145) The outputs will be designed and methods adopted that are most likely to achieve the desired outcomes. Unless it is known whether these are carried through it will not be possible to judge whether any failure to achieve intended outcomes reflects deficiencies in the design and plan for achieving change, or in the way in which it was implemented, or external events.

Hence, these measures and indicators are needed to give information that helps to see whether targets have been met. It will also be necessary to know whether the preferred approach was efficient and equitable – were more or less resources used than necessary, was everyone who should have been involved enabled to participate?

Step 5

The fifth step is to draw together and evaluate the evidence of performance in relation to both outputs and outcomes. The practitioner will not only need to know whether they delivered their planned outputs but equally whether there is a connection between the specific investment made, the activities undertaken in the community and the outcomes that result. The evidence needs to be analysed not only to see whether the output was delivered as planned but equally to see whether it contributed to the intended outcome.

Also, in Step 5, it will be necessary to explore the range of outputs and outcomes that were set. Overall, this will enable consideration of what has happened and what relationship this has to the role the practitioner has played. The answers to these questions provide important information for further planning and a new cycle of planning and evaluation emerges. The community practitioner will then start the new cycle by posing the question: what now needs to change?

Stakeholder participation

It is of fundamental importance that those who manage community practice and engage in the process understand that the emphasis on a shared vision reflects the commitment of community practice to the promotion of community participation. The participative principle requires careful consideration, from the start, of who has a legitimate interest in any particular community practice activity and how they can exercise that interest in the processes of both planning and evaluation.

In the introduction to this chapter the term ‘stakeholder’ was used to acknowledge that there are a variety of participants who have a legitimate interest or stake in both what happens in communities and how it is done. These stakeholders will include: different community interest groups that will have a wide range of levels of structure and organisation, from informal networks to well-resourced organisations; statutory, voluntary and private agencies working on (or with an interest in working on) relevant issues in the community; agencies that fund community activity; formal representatives from political (p.146) groupings. Such stakeholders have different contributions to make and benefits to gain from their participation. Engaging them effectively and collaboratively is a demanding task. Hence, unfortunately, lip service is frequently paid to the stakeholder participation principle.

Because policies have increasingly required user and community involvement, practitioners and managers have often felt obliged to show that they have done this. But without a value commitment to the principles involved, such promotion of participation is frequently little more than a token gesture. Participation may be manipulated to try to avoid controversy or conflict, restricted to engaging only with sympathetic voices, controlling in terms of the scope of the agenda and the range of information that is made available and so on. Such approaches engender reciprocal distrust, lack of openness and honesty and, far from resolving conflicts, tend in the long run to generate them.

The way in which stakeholders are engaged often determines the success or failure of community practice initiatives. It is vital, therefore, to try to get it right from the initial planning stage. It will be helpful for those involved in community practice to answer some key questions:

  • who, in the needs that have been identified, has a legitimate interest;

  • how motivated are they to be involved in action to address the needs;

  • where does that motivation come from – what will they be looking for from their involvement;

  • what barriers may affect their participation and what can be done to assist them to overcome these barriers;

  • what conflicts of interest can be anticipated and how can these be constructively addressed;

  • how can a common agenda be negotiated as the basis for shared action?

In applying the ABCD and LEAP planning and evaluation frameworks, bringing the likely stakeholders together to address these questions in a workshop-style conference has been found to be helpful. The purpose of this is to enable the development of a dialogue between them and to negotiate the basis for joint action. It is important that each group appreciates the aspirations, motivations, roles, functions, constraints and opportunities of the others. Each group needs the opportunity to identify its own position and then to be able to compare this with others. It is likely that there will be common ground and some disagreement.

The common ground is the basis for generating partnership action but it should not be assumed that this is necessarily problematic. Partners may readily acknowledge that there may be goals that they do not share but that can be recognised as having legitimacy for another group while not damaging their own interests. Such goals can be accommodated. The only ones that require conflict resolution are those that are seen as being directly damaging to the interests of another stakeholder. Though these are often less frequent than is (p.147) anticipated, it is essential that they are addressed from the start and that it is acknowledged that a partnership between the stakeholders will only cohere if they can reach agreement on what should be done and how. Trade-offs and compromise are often necessary.

Understanding who the stakeholders are, what their interests may be and how actively they may engage with the process of change is an essential component of competent practice. It will often be helpful to develop an analysis of the relationship between stakeholders that addresses:

  • relative levels of power in the partnership;

  • levels of activeness or passivity;

  • strengths of motivation (positive and negative) involved in relation to different goals;

  • capacity/skills to engage effectively;

  • opportunity to contribute.

The practitioner must have a mental map of the dynamics of the relationship between stakeholders and constantly assess changes that are occurring.

Integrated planning and evaluation

The phrase ‘shared vision’ that has been used to describe a key aspect of effective partnerships between stakeholders, also indicates that any discussion of evaluation must also be a discussion of planning. This integrated, symbiotic relationship reflects the reality that, without clarity of purpose based on negotiated agreement between stakeholders, it will be impossible to identify appropriate criteria to judge progress.

It will also be impossible to develop evaluation as a tool for reflective learning about progress that enables more effective practice to be developed. This is not, however, to suggest that evaluation only needs to consider whether plans have been achieved; it will also be important to reflect on and learn from those things that were not anticipated. Information is required regarding what actually happened, not just whether what was undertaken was intended.

The closeness of the relationship between planning and evaluation can be illustrated by identifying the key questions that need to be answered, to develop a coherent plan, and those that should be addressed to provide effective evaluation. Table 8.1 sets out the questions that form part of the LEAP framework.

Integrating planning and evaluation into everyday work

The emphasis that has been given to the integral relationship between planning and evaluation and to the centrality of stakeholder participation should indicate that planning and evaluation are necessarily integral to everyday practice. Both LEAP and ABCD are models that are designed to support this. However, (p.148)

Table 8.1: Questions in the LEAP framework

Planning

Evaluation

What are the intended outcomes?

Were the intended inputs made?

From the perspective of all the partners will the outcomes be desirable?

Were the intended outputs delivered?

In the context of the values and principles of community practice will the outcomes be desirable?

Did they lead to the intended outcomes?

What are the intended inputs?

What other outcomes resulted?

What are the intended processes to be used?

From the perspective of all the partners were the outcomes desirable?

What are the intended outputs to be delivered?

In the context of the values and principles of community practice were the outcomes desirable?

Will these lead to the intended outcomes?

Were the outcomes achieved efficiently and effectively?

Can the outcomes be achieved efficiently and effectively?

What has been learned?

What other outcomes could result?

How will the lessons influence, in future, the inputs that are made, the processes that are adopted, the outputs that are provided and the outcomes that are sought?

while there is little contention about integrated planning, this is not necessarily so in relation to evaluation.

In developing the frameworks, extensive consultation was undertaken through focus groups with over 500 practitioners, managers and community representatives. This revealed a tendency for agencies to see evaluation as something that outsiders should do. Usually this would be on a periodic snapshot basis rather than a continuous process of engagement with a project or programme.

The evaluations described also tended to be summative (reaching a final judgement about performance at the end of a funding period) rather than formative (offering insights into the ongoing process and outcomes of activity that can be fed into practice development). Frequently, this seemed to reflect a view that evaluation was primarily about accountability to funding agencies for the use of their resources rather than about learning for future action.

Not surprisingly, therefore, many community representatives and front-line workers who had been subjects to such external evaluation expressed substantial dissatisfaction about their experiences. First they saw it as threatening because it was usually commissioned in order to make decisions about future funding. While they acknowledged a need to be accountable, they frequently felt that the criteria used did not reflect community perspectives, indeed they were often undeclared. Second, and perhaps because the evaluation was for funders rather than the community, the results were frequently not shared with them. This elicited feelings of powerlessness resulting from lack of opportunity to scrutinise or, if necessary, challenge methods adopted or evidence presented to justify conclusions. Even if the outcome of the evaluation was positive the (p.149) evidence was not available to inform future work. Third, the sense of powerlessness was reinforced by the fact that frequently they had no influence over who was selected to undertake the evaluation. It was often felt that it was conducted by people with little acquaintance with or commitment to the needs of communities.

For the evaluators it appeared to be a technocratic task conducted by people with apparently little sense of the complexity of community development or demands it places on local people. Community representatives and workers, on the other hand, were frequently passionately committed to an activity driven by a value-based vision of a better community. Overall, therefore, as a result of these concerns many community representatives and front-line workers have felt like victims rather than beneficiaries of evaluation. In some situations managers too were uncertain as to how the evidence gathered would inform future work.

With these frustrations in mind it might have been expected that there would have been a strong commitment to participative approaches and involvement in self-evaluation. However, this was not the case. It was frequently described as too time consuming to be integrated into practice. Many simply saw it as boring or as a methodological mystery – they did not feel competent to do it. Another common concern was that too close a scrutiny of how things were going was likely to be a source of conflict between participants that would divert them from important activity.

Promoting a participatory and partnership-based self-evaluation model therefore met with resistance from different quarters. A conundrum emerged – some key stakeholders (particularly front-line agency workers and community organisations) were resistant to evaluation; others (particularly agency managers, funders and policy makers) were insisting on it but only on their terms. The challenge for ABCD and LEAP has been to break down these tensions and persuade the stakeholders that all their interests are best served by engaging in a shared commitment to partnership in planning and evaluation.

The best evidence of the benefits of this approach arises from the experience of practice. People who have applied either the ABCD or LEAP framework recognise the benefits of integrated planning and evaluation as a normal part of practice. Far from finding it boring they discover that having evidence about the efficiency and effectiveness of their work is stimulating. Rather than fermenting conflict, it exposes conflicts that were in any case latent, and it enables difference of view to be addressed in a rational and informed manner. Indeed, exposing and addressing areas of conflict becomes a positive feature of progressive activity. Certainly action planning and evaluation require commitment of time and effort. However, the increased clarity that it provides is more than re-paid in the understanding of what are effective, efficient and equitable ways of working.

The concerns about time are addressed most effectively when systematic collection of relevant information is built in to the normal process of work. For agencies, workers and community organisations this may involve rethinking (p.150) how and where they record activity. In particular, they can ensure that what they record is pertinent to the outcomes that they are trying to achieve and, wherever possible, build it into an activity that would have been undertaken anyway, for example, writing minutes of meetings. One local authority, Fife Council, that is using LEAP and ABCD has developed a simple software package that enables users to record intended outcomes and associated inputs, processes and outputs, identify indicators that will be adopted to measure progress and record evidence in relation to progress on these.

The experience of the ABCD and LEAP programmes is that, once understood and tested, users generally find the principles of the approach are straightforward and their confidence grows with their use. They find that it enhances their capacity for effective community practice.

Conclusions

This chapter has introduced a discussion of participative planning and evaluation with particular reference to two closely linked frameworks. It has indicated that attention to effective planning and evaluation is a necessity in the context of policies such as Best Value. But the case for planning and evaluation does not rest on the need to meet policy obligation, but on the need to promote effective practice that is consistent with its purposes and underlying principles. ABCD and LEAP are predicated on principles that are widely reflected in discussion of evidence-based practice.

A critical reflection on the ABCD and LEAP models highlights four key principles to inform community practice managers and underpin practice activities.

1.Participative planning and evaluation should be integral to practice

Other writers on the topic acknowledge the centrality of this principle. For example, two writers reflecting on lessons from evaluation of a community initiative in Edinburgh state:

Evaluation needs to be integrated into practice. There is a direct relationship between good practice that should involve evaluation, and the impact of project activity. Distinctions cannot be sustained between the impact of a project, how well it operates (quality) and the way in which it works (processes). Because of this, evaluation should be an integral part of the operation, not an externally imposed activity.

(Erskine and Breitenbach, 1997, p 24)

(p.151) 2.Participative planning and evaluation is the fundamental component to community empowerment and capacity building

‘Information is power’ is a commonly used phrase. While it is obviously too simplistic it nonetheless conveys an important dimension of community empowerment. The capacity of managers and community practitioners to analyse and learn from their situation, for the purpose of planning appropriate responses, depends on access to reliable information, not only to help define the problems to be tackled, but also to reveal the impact and hence capacity of their current and proposed actions. Such evaluation is also required for individual participants and community organisations. Information should be used to understand the situations of both individuals and community organisations. On the basis of this understanding they can identify ways of achieving beneficial change. In the context of community practice that works with those who are likely to have experienced poverty, disadvantage, discrimination and exclusion, integrated evaluation (which provides feedback of demonstrated capacity) is a critical component of building self-confidence. Evaluating self-image and knowledge is an essential step in empowerment:

Without some evaluation of people’s image of their ability to act in their own interests, goals may be generated that are unrealistic because they have overlooked people’s aptitude for solving problems. In this respect a major task is to revive people’s confidence.

(Rees, 1991, p 90)

3.Participative planning and evaluation is the basis for effective learning organisations

The empowering potential of participative evaluation for communities has its corollary in the context of more complex organisations, such as community partnerships. The ABCD/LEAP models share with many others the conviction that effective learning depends on clear analysis of both the problems and the competence with which they are addressed:

Partnerships need to be learning organisations: not only about success and failure in regeneration strategy, by monitoring, but equally about the underlying attitudes and values, reflected in working practices that partners bring to the table. These are the indicators of organisational culture, which can be gradually and constructively shifted to embrace and reward partnership working.

(Carley et al, 2000, p 22)

(p.152) 4.Participative planning and evaluation is the basis for accountable and influential practice

Accountability has been a theme of this chapter. The chapter began by highlighting the significance of Best Value policy as introducing a dual view of accountability that is not only about hierarchical authority but also about user and community rights and empowerment. Later, in discussing the relationship between stakeholders, the idea of mutual accountability was emphasised. Shared planning and evaluation is a necessary ingredient of a model of governance that embraces these ideas of partnership between governors and governed. The culture shift implied by these approaches is acknowledged in the government’s ‘modernising government’ agenda. Not least among the changes required is a capacity, on the part of managers and community practitioners, to listen to and work with communities to enable their voices to have real influence. If participative planning and evaluation is genuine, it will build community capacity based on the strength of voices from below:

Capacity building needs to be more than a process of enhancing skills and developing community structures: it is also about communities having an ability to influence and have a direct impact on decisions directly affecting them.

(Skinner, 1997, p 4)

References

Bibliography references:

Barr, A. and Hashagen, S. (2000) Achieving better community development, London: CDF Publications.

Barr, A. (2000) Learning evaluation and planning, Glasgow: Scottish Community Development Centre.

Barr, A., Hashagen, S. and Purcell, R. (1996) Monitoring and evaluating community development in Northern Ireland, Belfast: DHSS.

Carley, M., Chapman, M., Hastings, A., Kirk, K. and Young, R. (2000) Urban regeneration through partnership: A study of nine urban regions in England, Scotland and Wales, Bristol/York: The Policy Press/Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

DHSS (Department of Health and Social Services) (1993) Strategy for the support of the voluntary sector and for community development in Northern Ireland, Belfast: DHSS.

Erskine, A. and Breitenbach, E. (1997) ‘Evaluation in community development’, Scottish Journal of Community Work and Development, vol 2, pp 17–24.

Feurstein, M.T. (1986) Partners in education: Evaluating development and community programmes with participants, London: Macmillan.

(p.153) Rees, S. (1991) Achieving power-practice and policy in social welfare, Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

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Skinner, S. (1997) Building community strength: Resource book on capacity building, London: CDF Publications.

Specht, H. (1975) ‘The dilemmas of community work in the United Kingdom: a comment’, Policy & Politics, vol 4, no 1, pp 59–71.