Towards bottom-up participatory approaches to evaluate people's empowerment

Over the past decades a paradigm shift took place, from a top-down conventional to a bottom-up participatory development agenda, envisioning empowerment as an outcome of participation, due to its respect for local knowledge and ability to facilitate local ownership (Chamber, 1994). New top-down participatory approaches, commonly referred to as ‘participatory monitoring and evaluation (PM&E) emerged. PM &E approaches differ from the conventional approaches, in that they seek to actively engage project stakeholders, while assessing the project’s progress and results (The World Bank, n.d.) . According to Rietbergen-McCracken & Narayan (1998) , there are four main principles all kind of PM&E approaches follow:
  1. Local people are active participants, not just sources of information
  2. Stakeholders evaluate, outsiders facilitate
  3. Focus on building stakeholder capacity for analysis and problem-solving
  4. Process builds commitment to implementing any recommended corrective action.

Because of the wide scope of participatory practices, there is, according to Estrella and Gaventa (1997), a lack of a single coherent and conceptual definition for PM&E. To include all diverse participatory approaches, researchers usually tend to use the plural form ‘approaches’. The following is a list of  some examples
  • Participatory evaluation (PE), a partnership approach to evaluation, in which all stakeholders engage together in all phases related to programme evaluation, honoring the voices of the least powerful and the most affected stakeholders  (Zukoski, & Luluquisen, 2002). 
  • Participatory monitoring (PM):  a “systematic recording and periodic analysis of information that has been recorded by insiders with the help of outsiders” (FAO Corporate Document Repository, 1990).  
  • Participatory self-evaluation is conducted  by all those who are either entrusted with the design, delivery and evaluation of a programme or those directly involved and benefit from the programme  to 1)reflect in a structured way on outcomes and results, 2) increase self-learning, and  3) enhance transparency (U.N. Office at Vienna, n.d.).
  • Community-based monitoring and evaluation is an informal process to develop the community’s capacity to direct its own development. (Community-based monitoring and evaluation team, 2002).
  • Participatory Impact monitoring (PIM) is the process of evaluating the impact of development interventions carried out under the full or joint control of the programme recipients in the local community in partnership with professional practitioners (Jackson, 1997).

Despite their differences, these approaches share the aim of shifting power from programme implementers to the intended programme recipients and beneficiaries. “With participatory approaches, it is these people (i.e. the intended programme recipients) who set the direction for change, plan their priorities, and decide whether the intervention has made progress and delivered relevant change” (Institute of Development Studies, n.d.). It is not just a matter of using participatory techniques, but it is about radically rethinking who initiates the process, undertakes it and who learns or benefits from the findings (Institute of Development Studies, 1998).

According to Mukherjee (1995) ownership and control in participatory approaches provide local people with space and opportunity to establish their own analytical frameworks. Participatory approaches challenged conventional evaluation practices such as designing “data needs and instruments in remote donor offices in order to ultimately extract information from passive beneficiaries on the ground by external experts through rigid, imposed monitoring procedures” (Guijit, 1999; Holland & Ruedin, 2012) or individualized observations and top-down investigations.