Community-led monitoring and evaluation

Michelle Koyaro, Milka Kori, Rogers Otieno and Elvira Songoro explore how Muungano Wa Wanavijiji used the applied the Ripple Effect Mapping tool to evaluate work in ARISE.

Organizations use different monitoring and evaluation tools and frameworks to learn from experience and improve practice and activities. However, these monitoring and evaluation systems/frameworks frequently fail to provide scalable solutions for aggregating results on a regular basis. Furthermore, the frameworks often fail to capture the impacts of programs on participants either individually or communally.

Unlike most organizations, Muungano Wa Wanavijiji embraces community based participatory research approaches, including monitoring and evaluation processes that are connected with the theory of change and impact program with the donor who sponsored it. It is a very effective process for capturing the impacts, as it defines both the in-points and out-points for each funder and appropriately optimizes organizational strategies.

Ripple Effect Mapping

In July 2022, Mathare co-researchers and Muungano Wa Wanavijiji evaluated the outcomes of the ARISE program in Mathare settlement. The evaluation exercise applied the Ripple Effect Mapping tool. The tool is designed to capture project specifics by narrating a story. The evaluation can be done in groups of two or more, encompassing a narrator, a listener and observers.The narrator’s task is to convey a narrative about a program/activity/research without omitting any details. The listener, on the other hand, listens and records the story’s themes/key elements in the form of bubbles. The observer acts as a guide and adds additional information in case either party misses out on something.

The tool captures details such as the intended and unintended impacts, success elements and achievements, growth, the role of individuals and communities and behavioral changes. It is not only concerned with the community but also with individuals. This exercise was carried out with the support of Slum Dwellers International (SDI) Kenya and LVCT Health. It was all-inclusive, with thirty-five co-researchers from Mathare and Mukuru Viwandani participating in the exercise.

The co-researchers were trained on the tool as they reflected on the ARISE program within their settlements. They were given pointers and guiding questions to help them probe the narrator(s) to acquire more information. Some of the pointers included; the purpose of the program/activity/research, positive and negative impacts, achievements/successes/benefits, opportunities foreseen, networks/connections made, challenges faced, skills gained, lessons learnt, positionality/power influence and the role of co-researchers/community in the program.

The co-researchers were then divided into four groups of five. The groups were provided with documentation materials, i.e., flip charts and marker pens. Each group had a narrator and a listener whose role was to document the story. The groups were given 20 minutes to draw their ripple maps. Each group drew two ripple maps that represented the activities in Mathare and Viwandani settlements. The co-researchers who had previously engaged with the tool acted as third observers in the groups and gave a guide on how to use the tool. Each narrator then presented their own ripple map to a larger group in a plenary session.

Mind-maps drawn during REM

Impacts of power and positionality and participatory approaches

A community-based-participatory approach is one that allows for the integration of community discussion from all angles from the inception of a project. This was evident during the Ripple Effect Mapping exercise, which involved community health volunteers, youth, elderly, people living with disabilities,  women, and various community leaders who had all participated in different ARISE program activities in their villages. This integration can easily devolve into a stir and mix approach, in which the presence and recognition of others serve as the place-maker for integration. These individuals hold various positions of leadership. A critical examination of the power dynamics associated with action research is required to advance community development.

The tool took into account positions of power, rights and responsibilities. When various activities took place within the community, the position of power was divided into two distinct dimensions. The chief, village elders, youth, and Nyumba kumi chairpersons illustrated positional power, which is the authority that a person in the community structure and hierarchy is thought to confer. By using this power, they were able to create awareness in their villages. In some cases, the co-researchers encountered challenges such as a lack of cooperation from community members who were unaware of the ongoing exercise and interference heavily influenced by politics, with various political aspirants for government elective positions campaigning for seats. The co-researchers had no obligation but to engage with the community leaders participating in the exercises to assist them in coming up with solutions to the identified challenges.

On the other hand, the co-researchers, community health volunteers, and youth leaders possessed personal power, which is an individual’s ability to influence people and events regardless of formal authority. For example, CHVs have expertise in persuading community members on health issues because they frequently interact with them.

The process was all inclusive, hence, responsibilities varied depending on the nature of a person’s position, work, or function. The community as a whole expressed a strong desire for the research findings to have the greatest possible impact in addressing the challenges they face.

The experience of using Ripple Effect Mapping tool

The community-led process has resulted in community ownership because a large and diverse number of community members are involved in supporting, taking action, and making decisions for the community’s work. This organic approach has given power to those closest to the issue. It is significant because it has centered the voices of the community, created authentic relationships, and empowered community members to lead. The community determines and defines what the change should be, as well as how the community should collaborate to find solutions. It has empowered communities to be agents of change and take charge of their own development, ensuring that it  meets community needs and is long-term sustainable.

The co-researchers gained a deeper understanding of the research they did by holistically reflecting on the processes and outcomes of the research. The tool provided an opportunity for the co-researchers to have continuous reflexivity sessions and follow-up meetings to gauge the impact of the program from time to time. They stated that the use of the REM tool gave them hope that the research was being implemented in their settlements.

The tool recorded the best moments, skills learned and assisted in identifying capacity gaps. The exercise allowed people to engage in peer-to-peer discussions with community members while exchanging knowledge. Individual impacts were captured in the monitoring and evaluation process, and when shared with and among peers, had a significant influence on behavioral change and a positive impact on community change.

The process was community friendly and was  done with the use of any language. It was simple yet effective and allowed for everyone’s voice to be heard during the group discussions. It acted as a learning point for the co-researchers by learning about the different activities being implemented in Mathare (community profiling process, and Kiamutisya physical address system) and Mukuru Viwandani (photovoice study).

The co-researchers emphasized the tool’s use in narrating stories of change in their communities.  For example, through the Kiamutisya physical address system, the total number of people living with disabilities was identified and recorded. As a result, they now have access to profit programs within the settlement.