Promoting Community Engagement through Facilitation of Local Responses. End Term Evaluation for The Salvation Army Southern Africa.
Background The project ‘Promoting Community Engagement through Facilitation of Local Responses’ has been implemented by The Salvation Army Southern Africa in the three-year period January 2012 to December 2014. This was a pilot project with the aim of contributing towards the empowerment of vulnerable and/marginalized communities in South Africa so that they can effectively respond to their needs, especially in the areas of community health and social justice issues, through close accompaniment, the transfer of vision, inspiration and response by a vibrant and well-equipped TSA. Purpose/objective The evaluation sought to: Assess the project design in terms of relevance to the overall development situation at the national level; relevance to national strategies (South Africa Gov.), territorial strategies (TSA SAF), and to beneficiaries; Assess appropriateness of the project’s strategy and approach for the achievement of the project objectives; Assess project management structure, reporting and monitoring systems, and the extent to which these have been effective; Assess implementation and performance of the project in terms of producing the expected outcomes; Provide recommendations for improvement based on lessons learned. Methodology In brief, the evaluation design used a mixed methods approach, and consisted of the following main activities: A desk analysis of existing documentation; Collection of new information through surveys, administered questionnaires and interviews; Visits to up to 8 Corps across the 4 provinces implementing the project to see and evaluate activities taking place. Key findings The following key findings are registered: The community engagement approach required a fundamental shift in mind-set for both Salvationists and the communities they work in; Community development is a slow and lengthy process; Changes in leadership matter when the community engagement approach is not universally understood across the territory. Recommendations The following recommendations are given: The community engagement approach needs to be universally understood, so training needs to be rolled out across the territory; Training and implementation will be enriched by including some of the corps principles of community development - focusing on the long-term, on the desired outcomes for beneficiaries, on the importance of tracking project performance and on creating an organizational environment conducive to regular reflection on community development work. Comments from the organisation, if any It should be noted that it is the feeling of TSA that the evaluation to a lesser degree was able to capture and measure the degree to which Faith Based Facilitation (FBF) – TSA’s own approach for community engagement and empowerment – has been understood and used in the various communities where the project was implemented - and if it has not worked as intended, then at what stage in the FBF-process, and why did challenges occur? The report mentions that changing mind-sets is a slow process, but does not look into how FBF works to change the mind-set of people, or why this has worked in some cases, but not in others. Hence, there is little value or learning to be drawn from this report for the various communities that were targeted in the project and for the grassroots approach to development this project was hoping would take root in TSA. The recommendations and conclusions given are valid and valuable to TSA as an actor within the field of development, but it is felt that a greater focus on the specific approach the project was seeking to introduce would have been more helpful to further strengthen TSA’s ability to engage communities, and move beyond service provision towards empowerment and accompaniment in communities. The evaluation identifies an issue relating to the funded community projects (local responses). In some cases these funds have been used to run corps based community activities, and not establish projects or activities that are run and owned by the community. It might also seem that such projects (due to the funds involved) have a tendency to take the focus away from capacity building and learning, so that the program becomes a way to access funds for corps activities, rather than to empower communities. This is certainly the case in some corps, however, TSA believes that if the evaluation had spent more time looking at how FBF was used in the various corps and communities, we would have seen that the main issue here is not the availability of funds, but lack of understanding and appropriate use of the FBF-cycle. This could then have been taken back to communities for learning purposes. The evaluation uncovered some structural weaknesses in the way TSA SAF is currently organized and works. Most of what was uncovered was not new to us, but concrete proof of these weaknesses helps us push for necessary capacity building and restructuring of the organization itself. Though the project is now coming to an end, the recommendations will be taken into account in the future programs of TSA SAF, as well as in the continued implementation of the territorial strategic plan that was developed in 2011. Nevertheless, the evaluation has been a positive experience in that it has lifted up some of the positive changes achieved through this program in the last three years. Quotes and stories from both TSA and community members show signs of change in the way they think about community development - moving away from service provision and dependency, and towards inclusion, empowerment and independency. We strongly believe TSA has a huge potential when it comes to affecting change in communities all over Southern Africa (and the world for that matter), due to our network, presence, and credibility on the ground. The findings and recommendations from this evaluation will help us towards reaching that potential. Hence, as the project comes to an end, this evaluation will not first and foremost improve the project. In stead it will serve to improve our approach and the quality of our work in general.