Chris Sissons

Community Project Development Support

Quote of the month

September 2013

I'm working on a replacement for this site. Follow my progress at Community Web Design. This is an experimental site, watch out for the launch of the finished site in the near future. 

Chris Sissons

Ask Chris

1 January 2013

  • Why do we evaluate projects?
  • Do we need to collect evidence?
  • How do we collect it?
  • For whom?
  • When?
  • What do we do with it?
  • Will pictures of the event suffice?
  • Who should be involved?
  • How long should it take?
  • Examples of doing evaluations
  • Examples of bad practice
  • Examples of good practice
  • What would be the needs of the funders?
  • How long do we keep it?
  • Will it just gather dust on the shelf?

Charlie, W Yorkshire

Go to Ask Chris for my answer.

Participatory Methods

Businessmen connecting puzzlesParticipative management can be a very effective way of working.  A participative organisation is a learning organisation, taking full account of the skills, knowledge and insights of all its staff and supporters. There are many participative methods, and they can be deployed for many purposes. The following lists some of the situations in which they can be used: 

  • Facilitating participation can help almost any meeting become more effective.  Sometimes, it is as simple as checking out the layout of the room. 
  • Participative approaches to conferences, like Open Space Technology and World Café.
  • Social research using Participatory Appraisal. Soft systems is a more complex participative approach to qualitative data.
  • Citizens' Organising is an example of a participative approach to community development.
  • Consultancy can be conducted in more or less participatory ways.  A good example is George Lovell's non-directive approach to consultancy.
  • Web2 applications enable sharing of information online.  Pooling insights, through blogs and social networking sites, can supplement local work and introduce insights from other places.
Analysis - Participative Research
Businessmen connecting puzzles Tangled Ropes

Research can be carried out by anyone. The basic principles are not difficult to understand.  Methods such as participatory appraisal can equip local residents to simultaneously researcj their neighbourhood and build community. I recommend trying a few things first and paying for formal training once you’re clear about what you need. 

  1. I can help you identify, value and make best use of people’s knowledge and skills for research; identify what needs to be researched, plan how your research can be done and how to resource it.  Research in a community context often overlaps with partnership building and so the research plan can simultaneously include organisation building.
  2. Stakeholder meetings – nothing beats getting people together around tables, using participative methods to generate new ideas.  You can do this at any stage during your research.   
  3. Street work and work with community groups.  It can be fascinating going out on a freezing cold day with pens and large sheets of paper and asking people to map their area.  Actually it’s a good idea to find somewhere warm like a pub, a café, community rooms, schools, bingo clubs (difficult), etc.  The important thing is to go where people are, ask the right questions and pool everyone’s insights.  Use pictures and diagrams to express and convey ideas.
Planning - Soft Systems
Businessmen connecting puzzles Plans and drawing equipment

Soft Systems can be used to evaluate large amounts of non-numeric data, eg peoples’ ideas and stories.  It works in 6 stages that accumulate into a single exercise.  Each stage generates new insights and involves choosing which insights to take to the next stage.

Qualitative (non-numeric) data is divergent, in that analysis generates more options, unlike numeric data that tends to converge on one or a few possible options.  So, analysis of qualitative data is about making choices.  The point is to be confident choices are made from the widest possible range of options.

Examples include:

  • Rich pictures – where the team draws pictures based on the data they collect. 
  • Tasks and issues – identify not only possibilities for project development but also likely barriers, eg potential sources of conflict.
  • Needs analysis – identify the steps required to develop a project and compare what is available with what would ideally be available.
  • Action steps – lead to new ideas and meet the needs you identify.
Implementation - Inclusive Learning
Businessmen connecting puzzles Equipment Of Under Construction

Too many organisations lose sight of their values once they’re up and running because they encounter so many other priorities.  Reasons for this can include resource shortages, the wrong sort of inclusiveness, drifting rather than learning. You need to line up your trustees or directors, with staff and with those who support your organisation or benefit from its work.

  1. Making the structures work for your organisation.  How do you ensure your trustees understand and make decisions in line with the original vision?  Many organisations make it too easy to allow people who do not share their vision into top management positions.  But doesn’t it negate an inclusive vision by being exclusive at the top?
  2. Your staff, whether paid or unpaid need to learn to work participatively. Too often the demands of finding funding or meeting outputs can deflect an organisation from its agreed objects.
  3. People who support your organisation, benefit from its work or just live nearby can all make a significant contribution to your organisation's vision and work. These people may well be the next generation of trustees, active supporters and staff.