Participatory Approaches to Evaluation in Sport for Development: The Ambiguities of Empowerment and Organisational Change

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In recent years, the use of sport in international development has known a rapid growth. This sector, known as Sport for Development (SfD), has faced criticisms regarding the lack of evidence on which its monitoring & evaluation (M&E) relies. Conversely, other concerns have been raised regarding the processes of production of evidence in M&E which often rely on a top-down approach mirroring neo-colonial power dynamics. In that regard, this research focuses on M&E initiatives in which individuals from various roles across an SfD intervention have been involved, in order to transform and empower through M&E.
This research consists in an ethnographic case study of an NGO that provides sexual health education through football in 12 African countries. Between May 2020 and July 2021, this NGO has designed and implemented twice a type of evaluation framed as participatory. This evaluation consisted in training football coaches to design a qualitative study and conduct semi-structured interviews with programme recipients and their parents. Participant observation has been used to generate data relevant to the processes of collaboration and to the varying degrees of involvement throughout the different stages of the study. Documents generated throughout the process of implementation have been analysed.
Ethnographic data shows a clear sense of ambiguity regarding the purpose and core concepts of participatory evaluation. The involvement of different perceptions across an organisation to evaluate a programme can be beneficial to the organisation, notably for commercial reasons. However, participatory evaluations are often built on homogenising categories of individuals like ‘stakeholders’ or ‘participants’, on which success in terms of social justice transformation is framed, whilst it covers groups of people from very different social, economic, and political positions.
Participatory evaluations’ potential for social transformation can be highly unrealistic and ignorant of the wider socio-political structures in which this NGO’s intervention, like much of SfD and international development, is enacted. In the case of participatory evaluations, the agency for advances in terms of social justice is still framed as property of the ‘expert’ evaluator. In that sense, participatory evaluations framed as transformative of colonially-inherited power relations constitute a reminiscence of the hierarchy of knowledges as defined by the colonial minds.


ConferenceAnthropology and Popular Education: Mutual Involvement in Times of Epistemic Decolonization
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