Slovenian Evaluation Society has recently challenged accustomed practices and placed an interesting offer. They invited national civil society organisations (CSOs) to contact them in the case they need evaluation support which would be provided to them free of charge. But there is a catch involved in this offer, which makes it appealing for wider community.
The idea itself should be seen from wider perspective as it is set in Society’s conviction, that their primary mission as a civil society organisation is not to forward professional interests of colleagues evaluators but instead to focus their main attention to “occasional evaluators”, hence to non-professionals and so, to general public. General public usually forwards “wider social interests”. These are usually a result of indirect policy impacts, which are routinely ignored or sidelined by professional evaluators as “too complex to follow”. In this way evaluation is only narrowly relevant for technocratic concern of fulfilment of goals. From a viewpoint of an entire society (and in normal conditions), no public policy priority or impact can be of primary importance for everyone but only for a targeted minority – for the concrete policy-maker and for those directly affected. Therefore, in the society observed as a whole, a majority of the population experiences the majority of impacts of all policies as indirect or secondary impacts. So, not only that occasional evaluators are very numerous but also their evaluative concerns are exactly those which are crucial for evaluation of policies from the aspect of general good. Emphasising importance of occasional evaluators and secondary evaluative concerns is therefore entirely justified with rational concerns of professionals in evaluation. They are convinced in Slovenian Evaluation society that new evaluation culture is needed. It should go beyond present technocratic and even technical concerns in evaluation and bring in the focus non-technical, less positivistic and more argumentative approach.
This is why Slovenian Evaluation Society is convinced that good evaluation in CSOs is of crucial importance for evaluation profession offering it in this way another chance to regain its policy relevance. Of course, non-technicians from general public who participate in evaluation can not contribute directly to resolution of present theoretical and methodological problems of evaluation. All they can do is to provide, that evaluative questions are posed from the most relevant plural perspective of general good. In this way several currently crucial issues like effective achievement of specific sectoral goals and their cost efficiency and appropriateness of controlled experiments in evaluation of wide social impacts become less pronounced. In this indirect way many of present paradigmatic problems of evaluation would be effectively localised, relativised and even removed from the mainstream focus.
Slovenian Evaluation Society has also realised that evaluation is increasingly practiced in CSOs. Either because they evaluate their own operation for the needs of reporting to their donors who finance their programs, or they participate in evaluation of public policies. Some of them have also reached a complexity of operation that requires them to integrate evaluation in their everyday operation. In any case they occasionally invest considerable efforts in evaluation – as non experts they may have various operative problems and needs for assistance which can easily be served by professional evaluator, if consulted. And this is where Slovenian Evaluation Society has come in with their invitation to CSOs.
Of course, one needs responding to a very real life situations and so the offer is impossible to implement without certain limitations and conditions if one takes into account that hundreds of CSOs might ask for such assistance. Hence, SES proposed evaluative support on three levels which gradually progress from free of charge to chargeable evaluative assistance. On the first level they provide one hour per month of assistance to interested CSOs. If this level of support is not sufficient, CSO can choose to enter local exchange or time bank among other participating CSOs. They can obtain evaluative assistance up to certain amount of hours per month (depending on the total demand volume) if they paralelly locate another CSO to which they provide assistance (in any other service) in the equivalent amount of time. In this way the functional exchange network of CSOs will be gradually formed connecting different services among wider group of CSOs.
A variety of CSOs responded to the offer including CSOs that provide personal assistance to hundred handicapped people, street newspaper for the homeless in Ljubljana, philanthropy, network for health, regional CSO network, CSO active in international development assistance, public transparency, corporate social responsibility and CSO promoting practicing Yoga. Activities of the network are balanced between introductory transfer of knowledge in evaluation of projects and organisations, which appeared as the most relevant for participating CSOs on the one side, and production of social capital between participants on the other. The latter relates to presentation of CSOs to each other with the end purpose of allocating their unmet needs (not only in evaluation) and unfulfilled potentials which may constitute a demand and supply in the local exchange network.
Slovenian Evaluation Society, http://www.sdeval.si