07/25/2014 05:10 EDT | Updated 09/24/2014 05:59 EDT

Make People Experts On Their Own Lives

My story is about what I have encountered with SACCO. Since I joined SACCO I have benefited a lot, just to mention a few; household items, school fees and farm inputs. SACCO has also promoted my relationships with people in the community. I have made friendship with a lot of people from different areas. It also assisted me in the saving of money which I never did before. I appreciate and honor the introducing of community SACCO.

- Co-op member in Malawi

So often in the world of international development evaluation, the voices of the people the project is targeting -- the people who are really the most important in terms of determining the impact of the project -- are absent. It's not to say that evaluators don't consult or interview people, or that they don't use participatory processes, but even when this happens it is the evaluator -- not the people -- who takes what has been said and determines why things are, or are not, important.


Anna Brown with members of the Chikangawa SACCO in Malawi

I'm proud to say that at CCA (the Canadian Co-operative Association) we've just completed a program evaluation that included an innovative technique called micro-narrative analysis which turns this idea on its head.

In micro-narrative analysis, people are treated as experts in their own lives and after telling their story, THEY assign meaning and say why it is significant.

Stories are widely considered to be excellent sources of information to understand the lived experiences of individuals or groups of people. Using a micro-narrative approach in our evaluation allowed us to hear 698 stories directly from co-operative members in Malawi, Colombia and Philippines -- some positive and some not-so-positive, but all a reflection of how members around the globe feel about co-operatives in their communities and the projects we support.

The stories are then analyzed by their significance after being entered into SenseMaker software, allowing the user to see trends and connections. We now know that co-operatives play a dual role in building individuals and communities and they are decisively a personal and positive experience over negative. Members indicated stories were about overcoming poverty, security, opportunity and success and they told us that co-operatives are seen as organizations that affect change in women's roles. All of this helps us to validate our theory of change and confirm our assumptions of what co-operatives mean to individuals and communities.

For me, the whole evaluation process at CCA was a really amazing opportunity for us to learn -- not only about our program, but to also build our own expertise and capacity in evaluations. Micro-narrative analysis was just one methodology used in a yearlong evaluation process which was led by Heather Buchanan of Jua Management Consulting. Heather mentored us through the entire process and helped us "walk the talk" of being a learning organization.

Our commitment to listening to partners, staff, communities, co-operatives and individuals means that this is an evaluation that provides so many learning opportunities for CCA, and one that I think we can be really proud of.

I particularly like this evaluation technique for CCA not only because it is innovate and interesting, but because it is reflective of our co-operative principles. Like co-operatives, it is democratic and autonomous -- people's voices are heard and all voices are equal.

Written by Anna Brown, Senior Program Officer -- Research, Canadian Co-operative Association


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