Putting Communities at the Heart of Learning and Adapting
At a recent USAID presentation that sought to highlight the successful uses of CLA in the field and share lessons learned widely across the development sector to promote learning, I heard Emily Janoch, Senior Technical Advisor for Knowledge Management and Learning at CARE, present on, “Putting Communities at the Heart of Learning and Adapting.” She spoke about how CARE is utilizing a Participatory Performance Tracker (PPT) across various contexts in order to work together with communities to adapt programs and get better results.
The tool itself allows communities to sit down and talk through what activities they are and are not doing across different areas of their work. Unlike standard M&E practices, the PPT is housed by the community where it is being used and presents a powerful opportunity for reflection and group cohesion. The PPT is a unique data collection tool because in addition to collecting valuable data, it also provides a space for community members to hold one another accountable, offer support and assistance, and air their thoughts or ideas about what is or is not working about a particular project. A few useful tips that Emily brought up during the presentation about using the PPT:
- When using the PPT, it is absolutely critical to have a good facilitator. Using the PPT can quickly turn into a “blame game.” It’s necessary to have a good facilitator who can encourage open and honest dialogue rather than finger pointing.
- To E or not to E? The question of whether or not to make the PPT “electronic” is a difficult one. While collecting data electronically is much easier for aggregating the data and analyzing it later, it takes away valuable opportunities for community reflection and ownership.
- Donors need to walk the walk. If community members express themselves and publicly explain what they think needs to be done with a particular project, it’s up to donors to listen and then act. It is crucial for donors to act upon the requests and suggestions of community members in order to increase community ownership of the project, maintain a productive partnership, and to demonstrate that the voices of the community have been heard.
Overall, the session was extremely informative and eye opening. The biggest take away I had was the importance of viewing the communities in which we work as “partners” instead of as “beneficiaries” and that data collection does not always have to be structured around a system of taking and receiving. Through the use of tools like the PPT, data collection can be a more organic process that makes sense to community members and respects their agency as individuals and as partners in the work.