Planning and Evaluation Research: Need for a Context or Situation Perspective

Traditional research has usually started from the subject, the individual. This is an argument in favour of a larger perspective… to begins from a context or situation; need for the network of relationships, the socio-cultural systems in which they are embedded. This lack of perspective has contributed to failure in some intervention programmes.

A perspective does not mean adding on pieces on to the original research; rather it is starting at the situational/context level (Nisbett). This is sometimes called the Western v/s the Eastern view. The Western view is linear and dichotomizes issues into oppositions while the Eastern views realities as dynamic interplays of different forces.

Interventions are delicate situations involving balance. They are designed to change something. And yet it should not be a cultural imperialism, where one world view, is seen as being better and imposed on others, especially in a cross cultural context.

Relevance Statement:

Let’s do an experiment:

In the first picture- How many of us saw (or wrote down) the fish in water….

How many saw (or wrote down) a pond with some fish.

‘Well, this is not a minor difference… or it is not saying the same thing’.   

In the first case, the object is the focus, while in the second; it is the environment or the situation.

In the second picture- one could have put the two objects/animals together on the other hand, one could look at the relationship between the objects/animals (cow and grass).

Both are viable ways of viewing the reality around one.  More importantly, in an impact evaluation exercise or in project planning it is important to look at both.

Sharing one such experience in an intervention for the development of women-only cooperatives for sustainable livelihoods.  When the project did not yield the desired result, the much clichéd answer… the men’s opposition was the issue, and hence the need for women’s empowerment, Evaluation was next on the agenda, I questioned, Why? And the answer was that there are large funds available for empowerment of women, only if, such an initiatives driven solely by women such as the ‘women-only cooperative’.  However, the women were not at all keen on setting up a ‘women-only cooperative’.

I asked myself, ‘Is it ethical to run programmes, which the women do not want though you (as expert) think, is best for them?’  The evaluation process began with interviews of the women involved on and of course, it was observed that there was opposition from men. The question still remains, ‘But why?’

Now approaching the issue from a situation/context level. A cooperative, for instance, would mean a family-based work situation, in which the role of women would be just one step in the whole process along with roles for other members for the family.

However, the decisions, as to what needs to be done and when, were not taken by the women. Nor were the women associated with the fate of the final product.

This isolation of ‘the woman for an intervention’ had not seen it as an issue or a concern.

It is here that one requires a different approach.  This seems so obvious.

So why did it not occur to us in Interventions or Evaluations? 

Perhaps academicians have been trained mainly in Women’s Studies. Program development and impact research begins with a survey of the target group, with other dimensions that are added upon.

‘Well, that is not the same as a changed perspective’.

A changed perspective means looking at the situation, drawing the linkages and the relationships, and situating the target group within it.

Starting with the Individual, the Individual as the centre or the focal point. This is just one way of looking a reality. And when the  perspective changes, your world also changes.

Another perspective would start and look at the context, the relationships, and the socio-psychological world view.

It is here that one has to take the right perspective, advocating women-only intervention clashed with the reality of the family-based work and the relationships involved.

In a situation perspective, it is evident that change requires coordination with others.   A new or an alternative perspective can only help improve feminist evaluations.

Nisbet, R (2003) The Geography of Thought, Free Press