My latest post for the American Evaluation Association AEA365 A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators blog: http://aea365.org/blog/?p=8777
Zehra has invited me some weeks ago to write a post for the blog series from the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC): “Gender based-violence & livelihoods: how do we do better?”
WRC has presented really interesting research results and tools to support program implementers working around women empowerment issues, particularly focusing on discussing the intersection of Gender-based violence & livelihoods. I’ve taken an hour to listen to the recordings of their webinar, worth each minute!
My predecessors in the series have done a great job at discussing the issues around protection & unintended consequences of programming, the resources that WRC have developed and the importance of integrating men and boys.
I’m keen to discuss through my experience about three key recommendations from the WRC publications that, in my view, are interconnected:
- The need for a practice-based learning agenda on what works for enhancing protection & women empowerment through monitoring & evaluation,
- monitor for unintended consequences in programs, and
- modify program design in consultation with participants.
We need to get past our assumptions. Mendy Marsh from UNICEF has said it crystal clear in the webinar: “We assume that when women and older adolescent girls have income, they are safer. We assume that when households have income, children are more likely to be in school, that they are accessing healthcare, and that they are better fed.” We often assume things, based on the theories of change that our organisations or our donors develop. “But do we know whether that is true or not? What does the evidence say?” Linda asks in her post.
Well, I’m a firm believer that those who better understand the problems they face and are knowledgeable to develop solutions to those problems are the main actors of development: the people that we are trying to support. Women and adolescent girls in this case, can advise on the risks they face, suggest ways to manage them and judge whether to take certain risks. The WRC publication Preventing GBV, building livelihoods highlights: “programs need to involve women throughout the project lifecycle – assessment and design; implementation; and monitoring and evaluation.”
I was engaged in the last year in an initiative that supported adolescent girls that are part of empowerment projects to take a leading role in evaluating girl programming. The Initiative run in parallel in two countries, Guatemala & Uganda, working with two different program implementers and in different type of programming. During 7 months, 12 adolescent girl trainees in each country learnt how to use participatory video combined with most significant change to support 450 other girls to share their stories of change. At the end of the process, the trainees -who became strong video girl leaders- analysed the 64 collected video stories of change (32 per country) & scribe notes from the process, and presented the results & recommendations to the program implementers & donor in video reports.
On the one hand, the Most Significant Change technique is a form of participatory monitoring and evaluation that directly involves the voices and perspectives of beneficiaries. Essentially the process involves the collection of stories of significant change, followed by the systematic selection of the most significant of these stories by panels of designated community members and other stakeholders.
While on the other hand, Participatory video is an accessible, flexible medium for recording community stories of change. With InsightShare’s games and exercises and experiential learning approach participants can rapidly learn video skills, allowing people to tell their Most Significant Change stories in a familiar context and to someone they trust. The process itself is fun, direct and the results can be played and reviewed immediately. It also helps to avoid situations where project staff or external evaluators speak on behalf of communities, allowing people to speak for themselves.
When participatory video and the Most Significant Change technique are skilfully brought together, the human stories behind development projects can be captured in an accessible form, even for those with low levels of literacy. These combined methodologies promote peer-to-peer learning, collective reflection, triangulation and wide distribution of these important stories. Participatory video allows for everyone to get involved, contribute, feel, and respond to, other people’s stories and can strengthen community ties and identification with developmental objectives.
This initiative allowed adolescent girls to analyse how and why change happens in their lives and the lives of their peers; understand some negative and unintended consequences of programming; and propose recommendations to improve those programs they are part of. It also helped them discover what about girl programming was contributing towards positive change in their lives, as well as who were enablers & blockers of that change. They did it in their terms, using a method they became comfortable with, by which they could express themselves independently of staff or researchers. The video girl leaders had also the chance to talk directly to the donor and present some of the results and recommendations at the AWID 12th Forum last April in Turkey.
Both program implementers have taken into account the learning & recommendations, and are integrating the girls’ suggestions into the next year life cycle of their programs. The donor is also sharing the learning internally and with other grantees working with adolescent girls.
I hope this example can contribute to highlight the crucial points that the WRC research and publications are calling us to reflect about: a practice-based learning agenda is essential to understand what works for women and adolescent girls, what makes them safer and how programs can contribute to safety and empowerment.
I’m cross posting a blog by Weh Yeoh, Sub-Editor at WhyDev on the importance of mentoring & connecting isolated aid workers. Worth supporting it!
International development work is often difficult, exhausting, and isolating. Many people who seek to serve and live abroad often become burned out by the overwhelming nature of their work. In isolated places, often the only people you can turn to for support are your boss or your partner. For various reasons, neither of these are a good choice.
However, we know that the support of a peer is an easy and effective way to reduce stress, burnout and, just as importantly, have access to someone to bounce ideas off.
This is why we, at whydev.org, have decided to build an online platform where international aid volunteers and workers can connect and discuss their challenges and experiences, allowing them the opportunity to support others across the globe who are also making a difference. Knowing that the world of aid and development is under-resourced as is, we think our idea fits well. This service does not require more resources to be added to the sector (in the form of professional mentors, coaches or counselors), but rather, builds on existing resources that are not connected.
We would like to think that it’s the first of its kind – an international support network for isolated aid workers.
Luckily, we’re not the only ones who think this is a good idea. Since asking for expressions of interest earlier this year, we’ve had over 320 people sign up to our pilot program. This is great news for everyone involved, because the larger the pool, the more likely we’ll be able to achieve a good match.
One international aid worker said, “I feel isolated, uncertain and a little forlorn about finding my way into development-related work, and would like to have someone to share my experience with, who is perhaps also experiencing the same thing.”
It is perspectives like this that make us want to keep working towards creating this platform. But, this is where we need your help. We’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign over on StartSomeGood where people can chip in amounts of money, small or large, to help us get this project going. If you are reading this post, chances are you are either working, studying or are at least interested in aid and development. Therefore, you’re probably the right demographic to understand the difficulties that aid workers can face across the globe.
Jennifer Lentfer, of How Matters, writes that having self-awareness of your own qualities and needs is crucial in becoming an effective aid worker. If you want to help us to build a future that supports the needs of aid workers across the globe, then this may be a worthwhile campaign for you.
Like anyone interested in smart aid and development, you’re probably interested in sustainability. So, just how sustainable is your funding? Good question! Once the platform is built, we think that we can keep the service running by adding in a tiered system of participation, so that it is self-sustainable.
Our vision is that peer coaching should always be accessible at no cost, as we promised right from the start. That option will remain, and people will still be able to be linked up to suitable peer coaches around the world at no charge. However, we think that people may also be willing to pay a small amount of money to get a value-added service. As such, we’ll be adding in different levels of participation so that those who are willing to pay a little extra will get a little more out of it. Whatever we make from this can then be fed back into the project to account for running costs. That’s why seed funding is so vital for us – the major outlay is not running the program, but getting it off the ground.
We’d appreciate it if you would consider donating whatever you can to our StartSomeGood campaign here, and spreading the word far and wide about what we’re trying to achieve.
For the final word on the topic, here is Brendan, speaking from Ghana:
You can donate to our campaign on StartSomeGood here.
Weh Yeoh is a current job-seeker based in Cambodia. He is a professionally trained physiotherapist who has completed a MA in Development Studies at the University of New South Wales. With experience in the NGO sector both in Australia and in China, with Handicap International, he hopes to combine his interest in development and passion for visiting far-flung destinations in the future. You can view his LinkedIn here and follow him on Twitter here.
The third stage of the Participatory Video for Monitoring & Evaluation capacity building process that I’ve been working on in Guatemala has come to an end. After completing stages 1 and 2 (see this and this other posts respectively on those stages) focusing on monitoring girl programming, stage 3 was focused on carrying out a participatory evaluation analysing all the stories of change, collected using PV MSC: Participatory Video combined with the Most Significant Change storytelling method.
These days have been a great time to work on the fine line of when to be actively facilitating and when to have complete hands off the process. It’s been a time to let the trainees go and fly by themselves, while finishing the capacity building process that we’ve started in August 2011.
The girls have made a big progress in both Participatory Video & facilitation skills as much as in critical thinking. The initial days have lend themselves to be a process adjusted to their rhythm with an analysis structure that was simple, repetitive and that merged individual and collective thinking, going deeper in each day.
Watching – reflecting – filming has been the other key to success. Films prompted ideas, and through active facilitation we supported them to think how and why social change happens. This process harvested learning to create films about it. After screenings, the trainees discussed about the films to make sure that all the results and information were well represented. Re-shooting also deepen their space for thinking about those ideas.
Our role was primarily to give trainees structure, but lose enough to let them make sense of their ideas. They defined concepts, enablers and disablers of change. They dramatised how change happens and then incorporated other stakeholders in the process: beneficiaries & staff.
The process of facilitating others to respond to films followed the same flow: watching – reflecting – filming. That was 100% facilitated by trainees, without any support from us. They managed to connect with the groups, facilitate with great skill the complete process independently and ask difficult questions in a soft and natural way. The groups enjoyed the process and gave their best in their response dramas.
Finally… How to present all in a coherently way, in their own words? Beyond the dramas created by each group and the analysis dramas built up by the trainees, a complete video report was essential for any outsider to make sense and see it as a rigorous process that included triangulation and participation of diverse groups in the sample. The girl leaders created a video report including a description of the participatory evaluation process and a summary of the main findings.
Clearly hands off was the best way to build up their confidence and let them grow as facilitators. Now, they are ready to fly on their own.
Yes. Crazily enough, time has gone extremely quickly once again. I’m in Antigua Guatemala, for the third time. And I didn’t even have the chance yet to absorb that half of the project was finished last year!
So many things have happened since the last time I was able to sit and write about it in this blog. The Participatory Video for Monitoring & Evaluation project that I’ve been working on had advanced the capacity building process in Stage 2, last November, and also finished its monitoring of girl programming. We are now starting the participatory evaluation at country level and the sustainability plans for incorporating the tool in the regular M&E life cycle of the partner organisation.
What have we learnt so far? Well, below are some key things that we’ve achieved and faced in Stage 2.
What went well:
- Team work: the group cohesion increased and the trainees are able to perform as members of functional groups.
- Critical thinking: trainees were able to identify issues linked the MSC stories filmed, tagging them into domains with ease.
- PV MSC process: The method and process required for collection and selection is clear for the trainees, who are able to perform independently of the trainers.
- Local staff assigned to the project: Great support of the staff assigned to the project was essential to accompany the trainees’ evolution during post-training assignment 1 (PTA1) and Stage 2.
- Logistics: The logistics for PTA1 and Stage 2 were both satisfactory thanks to the high level organisation done by the M&E coordinator from the partner organisation.
- Documentary makers visit: The visit and exchange with a filmmaker and his crew, who was commissioned with the production of a documentary for the UN fund to prevent gender-based violence, was an interesting and positive experience for the trainees, who not only were at ease while being filmed and interviewed, but who also pointed out their cameras to interview the filmmaker!
- Audiovisual skills: trainees harnessed their skills, incorporating understanding on the importance of diversity of images and sound and video language.
- Online platforms: Trainees learnt how to use Vimeo and upload videos into their channel; created a facebook account and joined a secret group to exchange photos and comments in a safe space; opened a gmail account and join a google group created for the initiative to easily write to all those involved in it.
- Editing skills: Trainees sharpened their editing skills with advanced sound and titles skills, as well as being able to export videos for DVDs, internet and full quality. They also learnt how to do dubbing from Spanish into their mother tongues, adding up to their existing skills of subtitling, and how to burn DVDs with another piece of software.
- Girl-to-Girl exchange: Trainees re-connected with the trainees in a similar project in Uganda and had a conversation through skype, discussing about their process, what they liked so far and what they’ve found difficult.
- Celebration: The last day, the partner organised a dinner to close Stage 2 and the trainees planned surprises. It included fun, laughter and a deep moment exchanging gifts and messages.
What didn’t go so well:
- Shifting power relations: The girl mentors had difficulties accepting the new role of the girl trainees, not only being now girl leaders but also acting as facilitators of PV MSC, and the new status that this role gives them in the programme. The partner staff is aware of the reactions and are following up closely the process of the girl mentors as well as supporting fully the trainees.
- Busy time: November was a busy time for staff, having many activities to attend and support in the same two weeks, which stretched them and reduced their attention to Stage 2. Nevertheless, the M&E Coordinator was available and following up closely the delivery, participating as much as it was in his capacity, while also coordinating the logistics. The intern to this initiative was supporting us during the whole workshop.
- MSC collection: Less girl participants than predicted attended the MSC collection. Instead of having three groups we had to re-organise the teams and create two groups to collect stories of change. One group included alumni and current girl mentors. The second group included 13-17 girl club participants. The re-organisation of the trainees caused some confusion and clashing of their planned roles. Nevertheless, trainees performed well and girl participants enjoyed the process.
- Jealousy: The trainees felt jealous and tense when they had to share their space with the 13-17 girl participants. The trainers and staff had a deep conversation in which trainees were able to appreciate their new role and the importance of being inclusive and supportive of all the girls they have to work with.
The pearl: Trainees giving their impressions of the NGO world
One memorable moment in Stage 2 was the trainees representing diverse stakeholders that influence the programme and they want to influence through the videos. Some tough words were said about governments and corporates, but the one actor that was perceived by them as a “sympathetic friend” that would empathize with their cause was the development sector. Just to remind the readers, these are 16 to 25 year-old strong young women and leaders in their communities, coordinating girl clubs and now becoming PV M&E facilitators. They described us (and when I mean us, I include anyone working in the development and aid world) as people with willingness to support and help from the heart, thoughtful, emotional, and with eagerness to create new projects to improve the lives of young girls.
I leave it to you to digest that image and try to think if we fulfil their expectations…
Don’t miss this chance of having a say on a great service to overcome isolation in international development: peer mentoring.
This is a blog originally posted by Shana Montesol Johnson in WhyDev.org. I’m re-publishing by request of the author and WhyDev.
The problem: isolation
If you have worked in international development, you have probably experienced isolation. It seems to be a fact of life in this industry. Field-based expat staff may be the only person at their level in their local office, or the only expat on the team (or one of very few), separated from their local staff counterparts by cultural, language, and organisational barriers. Even people working in the home office may feel isolated. Perhaps they don’t feel comfortable sharing their struggles with their boss. Or maybe the boss him/herself is the problem.
Many people working in aid and development tend to spend a lot of time talking about work with their spouses, partners, or close friends. This can be a great source of support. However, it can also put undue pressure on the person who is getting an earful. Over time, they may tire of hearing the same complaints. Someone who doesn’t work with you – or work in development – may not “get” your work context. And a spouse will likely have a hard time remaining neutral and impartial because they have a stake in their partner’s career success.
In situations of isolation, it’s great to work one-on-one with a professional coach or mentor. However, this is not always possible, practical, or financially feasible. An alternative that works well is peer coaching.
What is peer coaching?
A peer coach is someone who is at a similar level to you in your organisation (or even in another organisation). He or she knows and/or understands your work context. While not trained as a coach, he or she is willing to coach you according to a simple (yet effective) peer coaching model. This involves actively listening without judgment, reflecting back what he/she is hearing, asking probing questions, and helping you generate concrete action steps to move you forward.
Peer coaching is different than mentoring or advising. It is not based on the premise that your peer coach knows better or is more experienced than you. A peer coach’s job is not to give you advice or tell you what they think you should do. A peer coach’s role is to listen, to provide a sounding board, and help you find the answers yourself.
Whether you are studying, beginning your career in aid and development, or a seasoned professional, it’s great to work one-on-one with a coach who can help you identify blind spots, gain clarity on your priorities, and help you design actions that will bring about desired changes. This what Cassie and Leanne have established:
Cassie and Leanne (names and details have been changed) both work as managers in an international development NGO. Cassie is based in Nepal, and Leanne is in Bangladesh. As expat staff, the only other non-local in their offices are their bosses — and sometimes they don’t feel comfortable sharing all their struggles with their supervisors. Cassie and Leanne met at an internal training that brought together international staff from various country offices. Since their organisation does not offer executive coaching to staff at their level, Cassie and Leanne decided to team up to provide peer coaching to each other.
They conduct their coaching sessions via Skype. They take turns sharing what’s on their minds, and providing coaching/feedback. They cover a range of topics, whatever is pressing: tough decisions, managing a difficult relationship with a boss/staff member, tricky cross-cultural issues, musings about career moves.
Leanne reports that one of the main benefits of peer coaching is simply the opportunity to think out loud. By talking through a problem or challenge, she ends up coming up with a solution that hadn’t even occurred to her before the peer coaching session.
Cassie values the opportunity to vent, share, and trouble-shoot with someone who understands where she is coming from. Since they have similar roles in different parts of the same organisation, the two women don’t have to explain all the details of their respective situations.
They admit that they could benefit from scheduling their peer coaching calls more regularly. Sometimes their jam-packed work schedules mean that several weeks go by between peer coaching sessions. But they also know that if a crisis comes up, or a decision needs to be made, they can set up a last-minute call and have a thinking session when it’s most needed.
Find a peer coach
We are excited to announce that, through a collaboration between whydev and Development Crossroads, we are launching a peer coaching matching service. We believe that young professionals, graduate students, and others starting out in international development could benefit from peer coaching. We want to develop a service that best matches up with your needs, and supports your peer coaching relationship. We also want to know if you would actually use such a service!
We are still in the design phase, and would like to use this opportunity to get your thoughts through the online survey below. Would you want a peer coach? What would you like to get out of such a relationship? How often would you keep in touch? How much input and oversight would you want from us? These are the type of questions we would love to get your thoughts on.
Please take 2 minutes to complete the survey, and you are more than welcome to provide feedback in the comments below.
Peer coaching survey
Click HERE to complete the survey.