All too often impoverished communities are viewed by development organisations as a collection of helpless and needy individuals, requiring outside help. Although economic poverty and systems that perpetuate poverty are real, we have seen that these communities “have reservoirs of hidden and potential capacities and resourcefulness from hard-learned experience that vastly outweigh what can be brought in from the outside. Once surfaced and validated by people themselves these are the seed-beds out of which change can be nurtured.(1) ”Therefore, a participatory, asset-based approach forms the basis of the way we work with communities and organisations.
“The foundation of community development lies in listening, valuing and understanding people’s particular experiences. It also involves analysing how these experiences are linked to the forces of power that are embedded in the structures of society, and understanding how these forces reach into communities to impact on personal lives.”(2) We believe that community development, if it is to be anything but palliative in nature, needs to address the systems of disempowerment that ensnare the poor, maintaining their poverty. Therefore, we take time to listen, learn and gain an understanding of the bigger picture. It is our desire to see “social change that is based on a fair, just and sustainable world.”(3)
We see our role in this as catalysts or change agents. “The change agent’s role is basically twofold: that of a catalyst to set ideas into motion, and that of a facilitator to help structure the development process as and when people require.”(4) Underpinning all of the work we do, “our role, through a diversity of projects, is to create the learning context for questioning that helps local people to make critical connections between their lives and the structures of society that shape their world… Every project that we undertake has this core of critical pedagogy running through it, giving rise to new ways of seeing the world that lead to new ways of being in the world”(5)
This evaluation approach was developed by Michael Patton. “Utilization-Focused Evaluation begins with the premise that evaluations should be
judged by their utility and actual use; therefore, evaluators should facilitate the evaluation process and design any evaluation with careful
consideration of how everything that is done, from beginning to end, will affect use. Use concerns how real people in the real world apply
evaluation findings and experience and learn from the evaluation process.” Patton argues that research on evaluation demonstrates that:
“Intended users are more likely to use evaluations if they understand and feel ownership of the evaluation process and findings and are more
likely to understand and feel ownership if they've been actively involved. By actively involving primary intended users, the evaluator is
preparing the groundwork for use.”
Manna Consulting considers and aims for ‘usefulness ‘as described not just in evaluations but also in other work conducted and so understanding and ownership is encouraged by participants involved. We encourage organisations to utilise Monitoring, Evaluation, Reflection and Learning (MERL) which is not just useful for donor reporting but, more importantly aids the process of continuous learning of the organisation and communities and is a valuable tool in ensuring organisations remain effective in their work.