Participatory Evaluation

Participatory evaluation, a dimension of participatory development embodying many of the same concepts, involves the stakeholders and beneficiaries of a programme or project in the collective examination and assessment of that programme or project. It is people centred: project stakeholders and beneficiaries are the key actors of the evaluation process and not the mere objects of the evaluation.

Participatory evaluation is reflective, action-oriented and seeks to build capacity by:

Functions of Participatory Evaluation
Participatory evaluation thus serves four key functions, some of which concern the stakeholders and beneficiaries while others relate to the funding agencies.



The focus on lessons learned is an essential dimension of participatory evaluations. Such evaluations should help to guide projects into the future by giving stakeholders the tools with which to take corrective action. In addition, lessons learned should provide donors with the insight and tools to improve programme delivery and management

Differences between Participatory and More Conventional Evaluations
Participatory evaluations differ from more conventional evaluations in several critical ways. Figures 1 and 2 illustrate some of these differences.

As shown in Figure 1, conventional evaluations have been more donor focused and donor driven. The donor is the key client, providing financial support and defining the TOR for the evaluation. Participation of project stakeholders in the definition of the TOR is minimal. More often than not, the evaluation is carried out more to fulfil a management or accountability requirement than to respond to project needs. An outside expert or evaluator is hired to conduct the evaluation.

The evaluator collects the data, reviews the project or programme and prepares a report. In most cases, stakeholders or beneficiaries play a passive role, providing information but not participating in the evaluation itself. The process can be considered more linear, with little or no feedback to the project.

In a participatory evaluation, the role and purpose of the evaluation change dramatically. Such an evaluation places as much (if not more) emphasis on the process as on the final output, i.e., the report. The purpose of the evaluation is not only to fulfil a bureaucratic requirement but also to develop the capacity of stakeholders to assess their environment and take action.

Stakeholders and beneficiaries do more than provide information. They also decide on the TOR, conduct research, analyse findings and make recommendations. The evaluator in conventional evaluations becomes more of a facilitator in participatory evaluations, animating workshops, guiding the process at critical junctures and consolidating the final report, if necessary, based on the findings of the stakeholders. The process is much more circular, as shown in Figure 2.

Participatory evaluations also call into question the notions that only scientific inquiry provides valid information and that outside experts or those independent of the project or programme somehow hold the ultimate truth. Participatory evaluations recognize the wide range of knowledge, values and concerns of stakeholders and acknowledge that these should be the litmus test to assess and then guide a project's


While the participatory approach to evaluation poses its own challenges, it has the capacity to empower recipients. The active participation of stakeholders can result in new knowledge or a better understanding of their environment. It is this new knowledge and understanding that can enable them to make changes they themselves have discovered or advocated. Stakeholders feel a sense of ownership of the results which does not come from an outsider or a donor.


Dimensions of evaluation/Levels of participation Low Medium High
Evaluation initiator Commissioned or obligatory evaluation typically part of programme development. Meets institutional needs. Evaluation done to, on or about people. External evaluator invites end-users to assist in one or more evaluation task(s). Evaluation in which end-users collaborate with external facilitator or among themselves to asses, review and critically reflect on strategies formulated for them.
Purpose Justify or continue funding. Ensure accountability. Levels of funding or sustained support. Gain insights into development activity from end-users' perspective. Shift focus from institutional concerns to end-user needs and interests. Promote self-sufficiency and sustainability by linking end-users to evaluation planning cycle. Develop relevant, effective programme decision-making based on end-user views, opinions, recommendations. Increase ownership in & responsibility for success-failure of development interventions.
Questions-maker(s) ? Agency heads, administrators, outside clientele, persons distances from evaluation site. End-users with external evaluator at various stages of evaluation generally determined by the evaluator. End-users, external facilitator, persons most affected by development intervention.
5 Method(s) Established research designs, statistical analyses, reliance on various quantitative methods. Product (findings) oriented (mathematical in nature). Dominated by math whiz kids. Qualitative methods favored but also includes quantitative methods. Values a process focussed on open-ended inquiries. Uses methods that give voice to voiceless. Relies on highly interactive qualitative methods but does not disregard quantitative tools. "The process is the product". Inventiveness and creativity encouraged to adapt the methods to the context being evaluated.
Evaluator's versus Facilitator's Role Evaluator takes lead in designing evaluation. Formulates questions/survey forms with no input from those evaluated. Steers overcome by setting design.Assumes objective, neutral, distant stance. Evaluator works collaboratively at various stages with end-users. Is partner in evaluation and imparts evaluation skills. Shares lead with end-users. Evaluator becomes more of a facilitator. Facilitator acts as catalyst, confidante, collaborator. Takes lead from end-users. Has few if any pre-determined questions.
Impact/Outcome Reports, publications circulated in house. Findings rarely circulated among end-users. Findings loop into planning stage with little input from end-users. Shared data-gathering but limited participation in data analysis. End-user views loop into planning stage. Increased understanding of end-user experiences. End-user more capable of meaningful decision-making based on effective involvement in evaluation. Findings become property of end-users or community. Participation in analysis is critical.
The purpose, methods, role of the evaluator and impact of the evaluation will vary considerably depending on the type of evaluation and the level of participation of donors, stakeholders and beneficiaries, as shown in the following table. In evaluations with a high degree of participation by stakeholders and beneficiaries, for example, the stakeholders rather than the donors become the question-makers and the evaluations are driven by the stakeholders and recipients.


Rationale for a Participatory Approach to Evaluation
All too often conventional evaluation reports sit on shelves or desks and have little or no impact on project beneficiaries or development practice either in the field or at headquarters. This can be attributed in part to a lack of input or feedback from those whose lives are affected by a programme or project, who have their own perceptions of what they need and how things should be done, yet who have little or no opportunity to make their views known.


Participatory evaluations breathe life into more conventional evaluation approaches by involving project stakeholders in all aspects of the evaluation: designing the TOR, collecting and analysing data, formulating recommendations and making changes in the implementation of a project's activities. In addition, supplementing more formal methods of inquiry, such as standard questionnaires or one-on-one interviews, with nonformal techniques can yield richer information than the use of only formal methods.As a result of the active involvement of stakeholders in reflection, assessment and action, a sense of ownership is created, capacities are built, beneficiaries are empowered and lessons learned are applied both in the field and at the programme level, increasing effectiveness. There is growing evidence that sound, sustainable development requires their participation throughout the development process in project planning, decision-making, implementation and evaluation.