In an academic setting, the research question drives the method used to collect data (quantitative or qualitative). When talking with Annette in Vancouver she indicated that when working with people and trying to determine impacts and outcomes, the most important aspect of community based evaluation is the narrative. The narrative (based on qualitative based methods) injects a human face into the evaluation process.
When working with the community led service model, in theory (and hopefully in practice) the community should be involved in the evaluation process, throughout each step of the service/program planning process.
What does this mean?
When doing a community assessment (developing relationships), identifying needs, planning service, and delivering services – during each of these phases – community members should be asked for their evaluation based feedback. Evaluation DOES NOT come at the end of the process. Ultimately, this provides community members with the ability to influence the development and implementation of relevant services and programs – that will have the greatest impact on their lives. If it is not having an impact, community members can be active participants to create change, so it is having an impact.
Now of course, this may increase the complexity of evaluation. When we initially develop clear and pre-determined outcomes and impacts (in traditional evaluation), this is based on what we feel and determine will be important for community members at the beginning of the process (and to be honest maybe what community members initially feel should happen).
However, the entire community led service model is a process. People change with experiences. Perhaps, the people involved in the process may even change. Community’s interests and needs may also change. Therefore, by building evaluation into the entire process, program and service development will have to change in order to maintain its relevance.
For example when working with need, this method or approach allows library staff to hear community need, interpret the feedback they received in a library context, and discover the direction the community wants the process to proceed. The need that was initially identified may change!
It is our responsibility as librarians when following the community led approach to constantly talk with community members to ensure that the need has been correctly contextualized within a library context, and is still relevant to the people we are working with.
When evaluating it may be important to ask yourself and the community (can anyone think of others? Please share):
• What is the role for evaluation (reword when talking with community!)?
• How will you know when or if there is a difference in your life?
• How do you know when what we are doing is working? What is working?
• How do you know when it is not working? What is not working?
• How involved are you in the process (community members and staff – self reflection)?
• Is or will the program/service become self sustaining (ensuring community based capacity building)?
• How can or should staff/community facilitate the process?
Ultimately, we have to trust the process. The community led process, based on relationship, allows us to observe and begin understanding needs (see patterns). Evaluation allows us to ensure that we stay on the correct path, as determined by our communities, when we move into service and program development.