Child participation is increasingly being accepted as good practice in community development programs worldwide. As a result children now participate in many programs, not only during their implementation, but also during their design and planning. It therefore seems both appropriate and logical that they should also take part in assessing the success or failure of such programs. In other words, they should be involved in the monitoring and evaluation1 of the projects and programs in which they participate and from which they are said to benefit. They are particularly well placed to help us assess the extent to which such programs do in fact benefit them, especially when they are considered the main beneficiaries.
Children’s views of the success and failure of an activity may not be the same as those of the adults involved. Indeed, many adults who speak on behalf of children are not sufficiently well informed of their views, and often give their own point of view rather than that of the children. The children’s involvement can ensure that their perspective is included in the assessment of the program and not just that of the funders or program implementers. Their views can provide interesting insights and help identify the factors which indicate success or failure (indicators) of the activities, as well as the reasons for the outcome of a particular activity. They can take an active part in assessing and investigating these factors and learn a great deal in the process, while the adults can learn a lot about the children.
Ideally participatory evaluations aim to assess a project or program’s impact, in terms of:
• universal criteria for children’s well–being
• the extent to which the aims and objectives of the project or program have been reached
• local criteria established with the children, their families and communities
No small task!
All this should be done in a partnership, in which the views of children and adults are considered of equal importance and validity, rather than more or less so. As partners, not only are the children’s opinions and views listened to and taken into account but they are encouraged to make some of the decisions with the adults involved. In addition, their energy and enthusiasm can often bring many other community members on board.
Participatory evaluation does not just mean using participatory (that is fun) methods, but involving the children through as much of the process as they would like (participation must in all cases be voluntary). Children can provide information as respondents as well as seek information from others. In participatory evaluations, they should in fact do both, and we can consider them as fellow–researchers, or, in some cases, social inquirers, even though this challenges many attitudes towards children and their abilities, and power relations within the community.
Their involvement in the monitoring and evaluation of the program clearly increases the children’s sense of ownership, their desire for the program or project to be successful and their efforts to make it so. The children are more likely to ensure that the results are fed back into the process to improve it in the future, making the evaluation an effective exercise.
At the same time, they acquire many skills in the analysis and collection of information, decision–making, cooperation, problem–solving, as well as an appreciation of democratic principles, social justice, greater self–confidence, new friendships, and better relations with the adults involved in the evaluation. Evaluation can involve them in civil processes by leading them to review public policy and law enforcement, thus it can be an effective way to empower children.
We often ask who an evaluation is being done for and indeed the final format of the evaluation report may well depend on the intended audience. As many community programs are run for the benefit of children, the evaluation should take their views into account, both in deciding the outcome of the program and how the program has improved their lives. What better way to do so than doing it with them?
This small guide was designed to help those monitoring and evaluating projects with children. It does not aim to discuss how to do evaluation as such – there are many other books doing this already – as much as how to involve children in the process of evaluation and what needs to change or be taken into account when working with them. It grew out of a participatory evaluation of the Girls First Clubs carried out in Togo, in March, 2005, where the children from the clubs made a valuable contribution to the evaluation process. Thus many examples are taken from the evaluation of that project and these are placed in boxes for clarity.