Building evidence

Empowerment evaluation

Empowerment evaluation supports program improvement by giving organizations and community members the tools to take ownership of the evaluation process. While there are similarities with participatory evaluation, empowerment evaluation has more emphasis on giving program staff, volunteers, and others involved in delivering a program or initiative (the chefs of the kitchen) the skills and tools to evaluate their program’s efforts. In empowerment evaluation, evaluation becomes embedded as part of the organization or program. In addition to having the tools and skills for program delivery, program staff working in la cocina also have tools for measuring their success.

Getting started

Encourage a culture of learning about program “recipes” and evaluation within your organization and community. Consider community recipes for pan (bread). Kneading the dough well is a critical part of baking. Kneading is something that everyone can participate in, from grandparents to grandchildren, and yet sometimes knowledge in systems remains with one or few individuals. The recipe and ways we evaluate their products, like rise of the dough, texture, and taste, do not get passed on. The more individuals within your organization that understand the logic, processes, and ingredients necessary for your program, the more likely your program is to succeed, grow, and adapt.

Before starting the empowerment evaluation process, consider the following:

  • Is this an evaluation that will be recurrent?
  • Are there members of the organization that are committed to learning and being involved in the evaluation process?
  • Does the organization have the tools and resources (staff time, funding, access to stakeholders) to continue evaluating their programs after the consultant is gone?

As you answer the questions above to check if empowerment evaluation is a good fit for your organization, review the 10 principles for empowerment evaluation and discuss how each principle applies to your evaluation team.

10 principles for empowerment evaluation
  1. Improvement. Through evaluation, we can explore strengths of our program receta and build on those strengths. We can also explore areas where the program can do better and grow.
  2. Community ownership.  Sustainability of evaluation is easier when community members have a voice in program development.
  3. Inclusion.  Consider who currently has a voice in the program and who doesn’t. Evaluation teams and processes should include diverse perspectives.
  4. Democratic participation. Strive for open and fair decision-making.
  5. Social justice. Consider how evaluation processes can address social inequities in your community.
  6. Community knowledge. Consider community members as experts on their own lives and experiences.
  7.  Evidence-based strategies. Along with community knowledge, offer or seek knowledge from evaluation specialists and scholars in research or community practice.
  8.  Capacity building. empowerment evaluation should provide program staff and community members with systems and tools to improve program planning and implementation.
  9. Organizational learning.  Data collected from evaluations should be used to create new and adapted practices (recipes) and inform decision-making. In addition to building on successes and learning from mistakes, organizations can adapt as they go, rather than waiting until after the program or service is delivered.
  10. Accountability – empowerment evaluation teams engage community members and staff responsible for a program and seek to understand if the program accomplished its objectives.

Download the Principles for Empowerment Evaluation handout below to distribute and discuss with your evaluation team.

Source: Fetterman, D. M. and Wandersman, A. (2005). Empowerment evaluation principles in practice. New York: Guilford Publications.

Collecting, analyzing, & interpreting data

Using an empowerment evaluation approach would involve the time and commitment from different individuals involved in the program to:

  • Develop or adapt surveys and assessment tools as a group
  • Observe program activities and/or complete descriptive accounts of events, programs and places

Critical friends in empowerment evaluation

In empowerment evaluation, community organizations can involve a “critical friend” that cares about the program and can act as a guide through the evaluation process. This might be an outside evaluator that shares the values of your organization and has experience with participatory or empowerment evaluation (Fetterman, 2014).

Notes from la cocina: Considerations for empowerment evaluation

When we invite community members in the kitchen to cook something healthy, they are more likely to join our table and share in the results. The more that we engage those involved in a program’s efforts, the more likely they will be to find the results relevant to their lives and act on the recommendations (Fetterman, 2014).

Sometimes we can feel defensive of a longstanding family recipe and resist adapting it for new generations. Similarly, working from within an organization or community can make us feel attached to old processes. An outside evaluator can give a different perspective from members within the organization (Friedman, 2001).

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