The Role of Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation in Community-Based Development

Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation

Village Earth Participatory Strategic Planning Workshop – Armenia

Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is an important part of building both accountability and a learning process into the development program from the beginning, both within and between communities and organizations. M&E should be incorporated into each phase of the community development process and included into implementation planning as a concrete plan for M&E drawn up by the community itself. M&E planning from the beginning can allow the funding strategy and ensuing M&E approach to spring from this relationship. Here we advocate for a Community Praxis Approach to lay the fundamentals of an M&E process.

A Theoretical Introduction to Village Earth’s Community Praxis Approach

The Community Praxis Approach stems from Paulo Freire’s ideas on education and poverty, which have their roots in Marxist concepts of an “ideological superstructure” shaped by the mode of production (e.g. capitalism, colonialism) and which forms the fabric of the “social consciousness.” According to Marx, this is a “false consciousness,” preventing people from recognizing the true nature of their reality, and most importantly, the reality of their exploitation.

Freire was also influenced by the concept of praxis in Marxist theory –namely, the idea that theory should be grounded in action and the everyday practice of human beings. Freire explains,

“It is only when the oppressed find the oppressor out and become involved in the organized struggle for their liberation that they begin to believe in themselves. This discovery cannot be purely intellectual but must involve action; nor can it be limited to mere activism, but must include serious reflection; only then will it be a praxis.”

In practical terms, the oppressed must shape their understanding of reality by critically analyzing the world in which they live and then using that analysis to change it. This would be in contrast to the traditional “banking” approach to teaching where someone else tells you about the world and then you memorize it, like someone making a deposit into a bank. Freire was also influenced by the anti-colonial writings of Frantz Fanon especially his ideas on the role of language in the psychology of the colonized. Fanon writes:

“Every colonized people–in other words, every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality–finds itself face to face with the language of the civilizing nation; that is, with the culture of the mother country.”

With this in mind, Freire developed a new form of literacy education where people don’t just memorize a language embedded with the conceptual categories of the oppressor but rather do so critically, creating their own conceptual categories (of course based on a critical analysis of the world around them). Both Fanon and Freire believed that true liberation must start with education calling this process “conscientization.” According to Freire, “literacy should be viewed as ‘one of the major vehicles by which ‘oppressed’ people are able to participate in the sociohistorical transformation of their society.”

Freire’s ideas have had a powerful influence around the globe, but especially in Latin America, influencing liberation theology and becoming the basis for many social movements. Freire has also influenced contemporary thinking and practice of action research, participatory research, community-based research, participatory rural appraisal, participatory learning and action, and now as we present here, participatory monitoring and evaluation (PM&E).

The Role of PM&E in Community Development

Monitoring and evaluation are not activities outside of the community-praxis approach—they are inherently built into the action-reflection cycle. PM&E can be viewed as the reflection half of the cycle which evaluates and informs action. Monitoring and evaluation are not events that take place after the fact, but instead an on-going processes that help to improve the alliance between program partners (internal activators, communities etc.) and NGO staff (external activators, etc.) and inform involved stakeholders (funders, partner organizations, etc.) about the impact of project activities. PM&E can be used as a process to learn as an institution and improve practice in the field. For communities, this is not only a learning activity but part of the process of conscientisization for all stakeholders. Through the community-praxis approach, individuals and communities critically analyze the world around them and identify practical actions to create the world they wish to see. Critical to this approach is regular open dialog and honest reflection at each stage to determine if the underlying assumptions, strategies and actions are moving the community towards their vision.

The community-praxis approach is like peeling back the layers of an onion. Each layer you peel off is like the process of conscientization discarding another layer of false consciousness. Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation (PM&E) is a part of this process that helps people to analyze and reflect on their actions to determine what is working and what is not. PM&E requires open dialogue between all stakeholders. If M&E reports are tied to job security and future funding—honest and genuine learning are lost as reports are fabricated to meet expectations and not based on genuine reflection and learning. PM&E has to be a two-way exchange relationship based on mutual trust which, in turn, allows for flexibility. It also requires an analysis of whether the actions are moving the community toward their vision. Each peeled of a layer is like a step in the empowerment process toward self-determination and liberation, or total empowerment. Therefore, PM&E is a tool in that process of empowerment. Because empowerment is not a tangible outcome and the process of conscientization is difficult to see – many traditional PM&E tools are not usable to measure the results of this process.

Some of our key indicators in our approach to PM&E are levels of participation, empowerment, and social capital. However, because these indicators are so intangible they are very difficult to measure using quantitative methods. Instead we advocate for qualitative participatory methods both formal and informal. There are a multitude of participatory methods that communities, outside evaluators, and NGOs can use to measure people’s perceptions of levels of social capital, etc. including mapping networks, timelines, focus groups, etc.

This, however, is a process that is to be constantly revisited as new layers of the onion come off. By using participatory M&E tools, communities may realize they have reached a new level of conscientization and that it is time to reanalyze their new reality and decide new visions to work towards. This process is cyclical.

Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation

A cyclical process of action/ reflection as opposed to a linear sense of progress in M&E activities

After a series of trust building activities in a community, PM&E tools can be used to gather baseline data with which communities can better analyze their reality and with which communities can address local needs, concerns, and their hope for the future. In PM&E, local perception is more important than precision and scientific objectivity. After communities have come together to analyze that reality, create their shared vision for the future, identified obstacles, and come up with strategic directions to move them toward their vision, monitoring and evaluation activities are then built into the action planning phase. Communities and individuals themselves must determine for each specific action plan how they will determine success, who is responsible to whom, dates to hold those responsible to their timelines (although with a certain flexibility), and guidelines to determine at which level they are willing to participate in a possible outside evaluation by an NGO partner or funder. This decision can then guide the decision on where to find and apply for project funding. For example, if a community is not amenable to evaluation by an outside organization then they can proactively decide not to seek funding from that organization. Communities and organizations themselves must decide what type of funding matches their capacity and development philosophy. M&E should be done with the same level of participation as the rest of the project unless agreed upon ahead of time.

Information gathering activities are used for the purpose of helping local people to analyze their own situation and then decide how they would like to act on it. As an ally in this process external activators can act as neutral facilitators, provide expertise in certain methodologies upon the request of the community, provide access to particular resources, and be advocates for the communities. Communities do not have to reduce themselves down to transparency for funders nor for the NGO staff in this particular approach. They maintain a sense of power in their opacity. Local people can determine their own methods for data gathering whether it be participatory interview, PRA/ PLA activities, or an indigenous method of data gathering, as well as reporting formats understood by them for their use. Outside activators can use this as an opportunity to share with local people different research methods and theories so that they can use this knowledge to demystify monitoring and evaluation activities with the aim of local people ‘decolonizing’ these methods. These activities are not about extracting data, but rather about stimulating learning and conscientization.

Many funders and other outside evaluators like objective data to view that the predetermined outcomes have been achieved and the efficient use of resources. But many times this need to please funders or higher ups in an organization actually undermines community development processes based on relationships of trust. We recommend the adoption of a few non-negotiables in our fundraising strategy. Namely, to not fund the community development process by one large grant. Instead, we build alliances with a number of dedicated, individual, private donors and small granting organizations that trust our approach. We refuse to accept funding with time-bound targets or massive reporting requirements that hinder truly empowering and participatory processes. Many aid agencies and large NGOs require massive transparency in their project management approaches. Bureaucracy and top down approaches make them not open to dialogue with stakeholders and unable to undertake a participatory process. However if local people are genuinely empowered in this PM&E process, they can then use these tools to evaluate the performance of donor agencies and governmental institutions that impose top-down solutions on them.

At each step of the process the continuous cycle of reflection and action is repeated in order for the community, alliance of NGO partners, project team, etc to revisit their actions and determine if they are moving in the right direction or if a new action plan, visioning session, etc is needed. These reflection sessions are best facilitated using the ICA’s ORID discussion method so as to not impose the facilitator’s reality on the reflection of the group. The ORID methodology takes participants and facilitators through a process of questioning what reality is according to those participating. How does that reality make them feel? And how can they take that feeling and interpret why they reacted in that way and what they can do to take that and turn it into constructive further actions. This is the process of conscientization.

To learn more about this topic we highly suggest Village Earth’s online trainings: Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation & Community Mobilization

Village Earth / CSU Online Courses Move to new RamCT Blackboard Starting Summer 2012

New RamCT Blackboard goes live for summer 2012

CSU-Village Earth courses move to the new RamCT Blackboard for all online coursework at the start of the summer term, June 1, 2012.   The current RamCT system will no longer be used for teaching after this date.

We hope that this new platform will be easier for students to access and navigate from all over the world.

Click the links for more information about the Online Community-based Development Certificate Program or to register for upcoming summer courses.

Learn How To Use The New System – It’s Different! 
For previous students in our program that would like to familiarize themselves with changes to the system or for new students looking to get a head start on understanding the course platform check out the Blackboard On Demand Learning Center for Students: 


See the RamCT Help web site

Village Earth to Announce Four New Courses

Village Earth is pleased to announce that we will be offering four new courses over the next four sessions! Next session, we will be offering Community-Based Forest Management for the first time. This course is a must-take for practitioners looking to utilize collaborative methods that allow communities to manage of their own resources.

In addition, Village Earth will soon be offering courses in the areas of mediation, resource management and social media utilization. Please check back often to learn the details of these exciting new courses!

Shipibo Regional Organizational Workshop

Above: Enjoying a relaxing evening after the workshop. 

Village Earth was asked by some prominent Shipibo leaders a few months back to facilitate another regional workshop this time with more of an emphasis on intercommunity cooperation. So the Village Earth team returned for a 7-day workshop in early January. Twenty-four Shipibo leaders participated representing six communities in four different districts throughout the Ucayali. The workshop began with a review of past Village Earth-Shipibo collaborations and a viewing of the Village Earth/Shipibo documentary film, “The Children of the Anaconda“. Then we began a district-wide mapping session so community members would be begin to think beyond their own borders. This brought up an array of environmental issues as participants discussed sharing forest and river resources with neighboring communities, but also the destruction being wrought by logging and oil companies in the region.

Below: Shipibo children participated by drawing their own map of their community and then presented it to the group. For community initiatives to be truly sustainable, children, too, must always be involved in the process. 

Village Earth would like to facilitate collaboration between our project partners, and both the Lakota and Shipibo have expressed much interest in working together in the future as they face many of the same issues being the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas. We decided to do a viewing of the Village Earth-produced documentary film “Rezonomics” which highlights the economic situation on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Although they inhabit vastly different environments, the Shipibo found many similarities in their struggles and learned from the Lakota new ways to think about many of their issues.

This was followed by a discussion on the roles and activities of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Shipibo country. This led to a very interesting discussion about NGOs and top-down funding models which many times inhibits NGOs from being responsive to community needs and truly participatory community-based development. The Shipibo have dealt with NGO after NGO letting them down with failed promises. However, this is not purely the fault of the NGO. The Shipibo, too, recognize that they need to be proactive and organized when soliciting the assistance of NGOs. Only when both parties are in consensus and work through the Shipibo model of community organization is there the potential to have successful collaborations. 

This led us to the discussion of ‘So, what has been successful?’ What has worked before and how did they organize to make it happen? This is an important part of the Village Earth process because we want to encourage communities to build off of past successes instead of reinventing the wheel each time. Many community projects had been successful before – from communal construction projects to fish farms. Then we questioned, “How did the communities organize themselves in order to make these projects happen?”



Above: One influential Shipibo leader, Limber Gomez, draws out the model of intra and inter-community governance that the Shipibo people use to organize themselves. This highlighted the disconnect between the way NGOs were entering the communities and beginning their work and the way in which Shipibo communities build consensus and participation for projects.

Shipibo communities already have their own consensus-building processes in which the community authorities hold assemblies where everybody is welcomed and encouraged to attend. From this point, committees are democratically-elected to take on different project aspects which then report back to the authorities and the community during the assemblies. They have their own treasurers and methods for financial accountability. Although this seems like such common sense, it is surprising how many outsiders come in thinking they have the answers or that the Shipibo don’t know how to manage their own finances or run their own projects. Yet, the Shipibo are actually running their community affairs with incredible organizational capacity which is only disrupted when outsiders try to impose top-down funding and project management.

We then began the strategic planning session with a five-year vision emphasizing regional unity. This was really a question from the heart – what do they really feel for their community and their people, as opposed to just thinking about what material goods they would like to have. This really forced them to look deep inside themselves to come up with their comprehensive vision collectively. Their vision consisted of four main emphasis areas: Community Development, Formation of Shipibo Professionals (business leaders, doctors, engineers, lawyers), Cultural Revival, and the creation of Micro-enterprises.


This led to the question, “What obstacles are holding you back from achieving your vision?” The participants really focused on obstacles they could change themselves instead of focusing on larger global systemic issues that might seem more daunting to overcome. We then moved onto Strategic Directions where participants looked at what they can do in the next year to overcome their obstacles and begin to move toward their vision. The Strategic Directions really got the participants involved and thinking about what they can actually do to achieve their own vision for the future.
Below: All participants were involved in putting their ideas onto the board throughout the visioning process. These young men were rearranging the group’s ideas into coherent groupings for the Strategic Directions phase of the workshop.



Finally, the workshop reached its pinnacle in the Action Planning phase. Participants mapped out their plans for the next three months – practical actions that they can actually take to move toward their vision and be active agents in their own “development” process. Eight aspects were deemed the most important areas for action. They are:


  • First and foremost — protect and defend Shipibo territory

  • Broader regional unity

  • Cultural revival

  • University scholarships for their children

  • Small business development

  • An Indigenous Bank to facilitate economic development

  • Promoting indigenous foods for better nutrition

  • Shipibo-run radio stations broadcasting throughout the region

A committee was formed for each of these eight areas, tasks were assigned, timelines and budgets were drawn up, and finally they were presented back to the group.

Above: Lea
ders of the group planning actions to protect indigenous territory present their plan back to the group for approval.


These eight areas will be further discussed in forthcoming Blog postings. A Transitory Committee was democratically-elected amongst the participants (with at least one representative of each community present in the workshop) to hold an Indigenous Tribunal in June. This June event will be the follow-up to this workshop and it is Village Earth’s great honor that the Shipibo have asked Village Earth to return and co-facilitate this historic event. The Tribunal will be a gathering of Indigenous leaders from all 120 Shipibo communities, as well as other regional indigenous groups, to discuss their own alternative plan for “A Better Ucayali”.
All in all, this Regional Organizational Workshop was an incredibly empowering event and a great learning experience for all involved. The Shipibo have expressed to the Village Earth team how happy and grateful they are for our support for their self-determination. Yet, when we asked “Who came up with this plan?”, the participants realized that it was completely decided and directed by them with Village Earth only providing the framework from which to begin to question and think about some of these important issues.


Village Earth is honored to work with these amazing individuals that participated in this workshop and the Shipibo people as a whole. And we feel privileged to be invited to co-facilitate their landmark Indigenous Tribunal in June 2007. 


Above: Village Earth facilitators Kristina Pearson and David Bartecchi dance with the group as the Shipibo band plays in the background. The community organized a farewell party on the last evening of the workshop to celebrate the achievements of the group.

Below: A special thank you to Mayer Kirkpatrick, Mateo Arevalo, and Freddy Arevalo for their hardwork and dedication to this project.

Above: Thank you to Ralf (Village Earth’s media specialist), and Chloe (Village Earth’s Poet Laureate) for their hardwork and help throughout the workshop.


Below: A very special thank you to Flora – an amazing volunteer who gave so much of her time to help with translations and facilitating the workshop. 

And most of all – THANK YOU to all of our donors – without you none of this would have been possible!