By Anne French | August 20, 2012
Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation at Ottawa University, Ottawa, Canada
July 23 – 28 2012
From the 23rd to the 28th of July, Nontobeko Sithole and Anne French attended a course on Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation at Ottawa University in Ottawa, Canada. Their attendance at the course is part of funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), to improve the CIE's participatory practiceAfter getting their bearings, with help from fellow Africans, they began a brief but intense course aimed at improving their practice in participatory M&E. This is Anne French's field diary of their week.
Sightseeing and getting our bearings – with help from fellow Africans
July 2012, Nontobeko Sithole and Anne French boarded an SAA flight for Heathrow London. After a nine hour wait at Heathrow, then an Air Canada flight to Ottawa, and a close to thirty hour journey, we finally reached Canada. Once through immigration, and after collecting our luggage (which amazingly was there on the carousel!), and proceeding through customs control, we had to decide how to get to our hotel. We were to find that the taxi men (there were no taxi women) were a sub-society of extremely helpful people, with advice and good ideas, who made phone calls for us and even on one occasion did not charge us for a trip from the airport to a hotel - when our departing Air Canada flight had been cancelled at two -thirty a.m. and I had not been issued a hotel coupon because of the ensuing chaos. Our Ethiopian taxi driver went out of his way to assist us because ‘we came from the same continent’.
We had a weekend before the Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) course, with a combination of workshops and a three day practicum, began - so Nontobeko and I used this time to discover the city of Ottawa. On Saturday we walked for five hours.
The Parliament of Canada sits at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. We first became aware of these magnificent buildings while we were walking: we heard bagpipes in the distance and saw crowds of people all walking one way and decided to follow them. We followed them to the lawns in front of the parliament buildings and waited for whatever everyone was expecting to happen. The marching troops came down the road playing brass instruments, banging drums, and playing the bagpipes, then marching onto the lawns in front of the parliament buildings. There we watched a show of troops marching with swords raised. This ceremony of the changing of the guard took place every day in the summer - a gesture to Canada’s English heritage.
We quickly discovered the canals running into the amazing Ottawa River. The canals were built for trade, war and defence, but now are used by holiday makers in the summer in boats of all sizes. In the winter, when temperatures drop to well below freezing, the river freezes over and people from Ottawa and Quebec skate on the surface. It was hard to believe that anything could freeze in this very hot summer, where the temperatures remained in the 30s for most of our stay.
Nontobeko and I walked across a very long pedestrian bridge over the Ottawa River where we had a spectacular view of the houses of parliament. Later we would be told that we had walked into Quebec. On our last intended day in Canada we again walked across this long pedestrian bridge into Quebec to visit the Museum of Civilization.
The Course itself
The course on Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation with a practicum began on Monday 23rd
July at 8.30am at Ottawa University. On Sunday Nontobeko and I had found the University and the room where the course was to take place and we had timed how long it would take us to walk from our hotel to the University, so on Monday we were in good time to register and look through our files.
The course consisted of two and a half days of learning theory, and then a further three days of practising the theory. We had to practise every evaluation tool the facilitators showed us on someone else. This could be intimidating - for example, we had to practice appreciative inquiry on one other person in the room, and particularly someone you hadn’t spoken to. On another occasion we had to find and interview people on the University campus to find answers to specific questions. These people were total strangers whom we had to approach and ask if they minded being interviewed. Some people refused to be interviewed. I paired up with Judith, who was originally from Burundi but was now living in Ottawa. We quickly found a group around a picnic table to interview but one of the group became so interested in what we were doing that she ended up interviewing us.
On Wednesday we were put into projects, where we were to apply our new evaluation skills by genuinely evaluating the project according to the specifications of the particular project managers of those projects. There were four projects to be evaluated:
Youth Services Bureau (where I was placed) provides a safe place for youth 12 – 20 years of age who are homeless or living on the street. The organisation operates within a framework of seven values: choice, respect for difference, woman-positive, diversity-positive, accountability, accessibility, power with vs. power over, and safety. YSB has a Youth Engagement Programme which defines youth engagement as the meaningful participation of young people in activities with a focus outside of themselves. Youth participating in the Youth Advisory Committees were about twenty-four years of age and had usually come through YSB. They received an honorarium for their work.
The Well is a drop-in centre only for women who visit daily. 125 – 175 women from a range of socio-economic groups, including immigrants and the homeless, First Nations women, Francophone women, women with children and older women. The Well offers free clothing, breakfast and lunch, social, recreational and educational programmes, laundry and shower facilities, crisis intervention, referrals and information, computers, telephone and internet.
The Oasis Programme of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre provides medical and social services to people at risk of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C because of their addiction to street drugs and co-occurring mental illnesses. At Oasis they are provided with medical treatment, HIV treatment, opiate substitution therapy, needle exchange/safer crack use.
The Ottawa Mission (where Nontobeko was placed) provides a safe haven for the homeless. There are 203 emergency hostel beds and 24 private rooms.
The facilitators, Francoise and Helen, put us into groups of eight people and sent us off to design the evaluation tools that we were going to use in our assignments. This was the first challenge. Eight professional people did not find it easy to agree and had to learn to compromise or sulk.
Challenges at the Youth Services Bureau (YSB)
Our group walked to YSB, which was close to the University of Ottawa. There we met three members of management to find out more about YSB and also to confirm that the evaluation questions that had appeared on the Terms of Reference were really the questions that management was wanting answered. We had arrived with rolls of paper and our tools to find out their goals and objectives and they hijacked our process which we found out later was an experience common to all of the groups. We managed to rescue the situation but some of the evaluation questions we had to answer were not very clear.
The following day we had two focus groups with the client group - the peer educators. Again we had prepared our evaluation tools, but the unexpected always happens and as a facilitator or evaluator, the biggest lesson is to be prepared to be flexible and not to be shocked. The facilitators from our group began by establishing goals with the client group. They went on to use a tool called ‘dot democracy’ where you use dots of a particular colour to determine which goal most people think is the most important goal. The facilitator allocated blue dots for women and red dots for men. At this point someone from the client group said: “we do not identify with male and female gender norms”. Our assumption, as facilitators, was that everyone in the room was either a man or a woman, but that was not the case amongst these peer educators. We were to find out afterwards that there was at least one intersex person amongst the group and this is why one of the values of YSB is accepting diversity. We found that the peer educators had themselves found acceptance at the centre, and that for some of them it had been the first time in their lives that they had learned to accept themselves after years of bullying in the school system.
With the afternoon group we used a different approach, as we had less time, and so began with the appreciative inquiry tool. This tool helped to uncover the personal responses of the client group and specifically how the centre had helped them personally. These were some of the responses:
“It helped me talk about things I was ashamed about through being around people who are like you….”
“I saw the place as a refuge and as a support. It gave me a place to come to, to talk to people. They helped me find housing. They gave me the opportunity to get educated, to get the skills to be a better leader. They gave me the trust. I can choose to use the trust. It’s really nice to be trusted.”
“They heard my voice.”
Debriefing, Reporting, Learning
When we had completed the interviews, we returned to the University to prepare the debriefing report for YSB management the next day, and to begin writing the report. Our task was to have the debriefing report for Friday and a completed written report by Saturday morning, with photographs, to hand to the facilitators which they would read and hand over to YSB. Our group focused on the tasks and worked until we had completed the debriefing report. Once we had facilitated the debriefing report with YSB, we returned to the University and worked on the written report. While different people worked on the sections they had done, one person integrated the various sections into the whole report.
On Saturday everybody came back together for the final morning to learn a few more tools and to present each group’s learnings to the class.
I am surprised at how much I learned, absorbed and remembered in the six days. It is the methodology used in the course that ensures this – there were no lectures, and just one Power- Point presentation. Everything we were shown we practised immediately. The practicum made sure that we, as practitioners, debated about, thought about and practised the evaluation tools on real clients - and the report ensured that we analysed the results.
It is an exceptionally valuable opportunity to attend an international course of this standard, and to walk away with skills that can be used in the projects that we implement. Some of the participants on the course have started an email ‘Community of Practice’ so that we can discuss how we our using what we have learned and assist one another further.