Evaluating Community Based Psychosocial Programmes: Why, What, and How?
Evaluation of psychosocial programmes can be carried out for a variety reasons. It is the nature of these reasons that determines what is exactly is evaluated, what criteria and which methods are used. In this article, the focus is on evaluation as a pathway to learn from experience and develop expertise. Some evaluation criteria are discussed, and a step-by-step plan is described.
There are several reasons to carry out evaluations. Sometimes these reasons are externally motivated (by donors for example) and sometimes they are driven by the wish of the project implementers themselves. Evaluations often have two elements: accountability and lessons learned from the experience.
Accountability. Community based psychosocial programmes cost money. The people making the funding available want to know whether the funds have been well spent. Well spent can be translated into two questions: 1) have the planned activities been carried out, and 2) have the activities resulted in the desired e¡ects? In the latter query we are referring to accountability. Accountability is one of the most important reasons for evaluation. The donor wants the people carrying out the psychosocial intervention to account for what they have done. Some donors can be satis¢ed by telling themthat the activities have been carried out in line with the project proposal, and by describing a few case histories that illustrate the impact of the psychosocial intervention on the life of the beneficiaries. All we have to do to convince such donors of the e¡ectiveness of the project is to interview a few beneficiaries and write down their stories. Other donors want a di¡erent type of evidence. They want to see quantitative results that can be analysed through statistical methods.This kind of evidence is generally considered ‘harder’ evidence than the evidence gathered from a few case histories.The call for so-called hard evidence seems tobecome louder and louder with each passing day. I find it interesting that double standards are often applied for psychosocial programmes in Western countries and psychosocial programmes in areas of armed conflict. For example: during the 35 years I was attached to mental health institutions in the Netherlands no one ever evaluated the e¡ect of the interventions o¡ered bymy colleagues and I, although these centres cost millions of Euros per year. However, if the non governmental organisation (NGO) I work for supports a psychosocial programme for children a¡ected by war in the Palestine territories, the donor wants hard evidence that the invested 50.000 Euros have resulted in e¡ective interventions.
Lessons learned. Another important reason for evaluating psychosocial programmes is that we want to learn fromour experience. Evaluation can help us to develop our practical know-how on how to carry out psychosocial interventions, within a particular context, in away thatmakes a real and tangible difference to the beneficiaries. Evaluation is then part of the process of developing contextual expertise. In this type of evaluation, it is important to know exactly how the activities have been implemented. For example, we do not learn much if we only report that we have successfully trained a particular target group. To learn something, we need to report how the training was carried out. We should also include the content of the training in detail: what subject matter was introduced during the training and which knowledge and skills were featured in the curriculum.We also need to report which educational methods were used for di¡erentparts of the curriculum, and how the participants received the various items in the training programme during the training.