Towards the Measurement of Empowerment: The Evaluation of Community Development

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Community development is enjoying something of a revival worldwide. At the same time, however, governments are increasingly concerned to evaluate the effectiveness of community development programs. While the literature has grown concerning the evaluation of public spending programs in general, in the recent context of a mixture of a financial squeeze on public expenditure, consumer-led service responses, and a managerialist approach to service provision, much of the language and techniques of these evaluative approaches is inappropriate to community development given its particular emphases on process and participation. The article reviews current debates on evaluation of public services, identifies the elements of most relevance to community development, and suggests a framework for moving towards a model of best practice.

Keywords: evaluation; process; participation; community development; best practice.

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INTRODUCTION

 
    "Many programs are searches and explorations rather than specified 
     experiments, the implicit and often explicit outlook of those who 
     promote evaluations. With poverty programs suffering from 
     inadequate funding, absence of key resources like jobs, deep 
     problems, and political reluctance to switch attention from better 
     situated citizens, the probing for an adequate, authentic, useful 
     and feasible purpose is often the central goal. We seek to learn 
     what we might do usefully rather than checking on how well we have 
     traveled the road to a cost-effective performance" (Miller, 1988). 

Evaluation of public service programs has become a matter of growing--if increasingly contested--concern and the literature has correspondingly grown. Many of the reasons for undertaking evaluation result from political or financial pressures; for example to know "what works" or to ensure proper use of public money (Walker 2001), although increasingly growing interest in evaluation is also about the desire to improve practice. As Breitenbach and Erskine (1994) note in the UK context, heightened pressure from government to engage in evaluation has permeated both local government and the third sector: this pressure arises both from the "new managerialism" in the public sector with its emphasis on identifiable (and usually quantifiable) outputs--an approach that has largely survived the change from Conservative to New Labour governments--and from growing emphasis on the right of consumers to receive quality services of defined standards.

The growth of interest in evaluation has spread in the past few years to community development work as well. Community development work itself has received a welcome boost in many countries, not least in the emerging democracies of East and Central Europe, and in many Third World countries (Community Development Journal, 1998), and the goals of participation and empowerment have been supported by major international players such as the World Bank and the IMF. Evaluation of this work, however, raises important issues about the appropriateness of models of evaluation that have commonly been used to assess the effectiveness of public programs. Recent experience from the United States has been helpful in encouraging a shift away from treasury-driven models, but there is a need to devise a model of evaluation that reflects the goals of community development. This article is a modest contribution to that search.

WHY EVALUATE COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT?

Most community development work in advanced economies is funded directly or indirectly from public taxation (in developing countries programs tend to be funded from a mix of government and overseas aid). It is obviously desirable that those making use of public money to deliver programs targeted at specific population groups, should want to know whether the program was meeting its stated objectives and doing so in a way that was both resource-efficient and acceptable to intended beneficiaries. …