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A Birds-Eye View: LWR Asks Participants to Evaluate Projects Through Photography

Project participant in India shows his photos to the group.

What happens when you give a camera to participants in a Lutheran World Relief project and ask them to show you the most significant changes it brought in their lives?

While most project evaluations focus exclusively on metrics to measure progress as envisioned by the evaluator, LWR has been experimenting with participant-centered evaluation methodologies for three projects in India, Nicaragua and Uganda, and so that’s what we did: lent out digital cameras to community members and asked them to document how the project changed their lives. We didn’t know what we’d get back, but we were sure it would be interesting. And was it ever!

All three projects, part of an initiative called Learning for Gender Integration (LGI), incorporated gender equity into initiatives that worked to improve nutrition and food security in the community. LWR and Cultural Practice, LLC sought to incorporate the insights of participants in projects along with the perspective of the staff who carried out the projects. LWR combined two recognized evaluation methods, Most Significant Change and PhotoVoice, to carry out this innovative evaluation that allowed everyone involved to contribute equally, regardless of literacy or educational attainment.

Documenting changes in gender roles

A few men and women who participated in the project received cameras and were asked to photograph the most significant changes in gender roles they saw in their lives since the LWR project began. Wendi Bevins, LWR monitoring and evaluation manager, described some of the hesitation she saw when participants in India first received their cameras.

“Some of them were a little more afraid, and some were pretty excited,” she says. “A number of the people chosen had never had a mobile phone or a camera, so this was the first time they’d interacted with this type of technology. There was some visible hesitation about taking photos. The concept of taking a photo is pretty abstract when you’ve never done it.”

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Project participant in Nicaragua receives his camera while Arthur Nkubito of LWR Uganda, standing behind him, gives instructions.

After several days, the photographers returned and sat with a facilitator to choose five of their best photos and narrate a story about each. “Sitting next to farmers, a laptop between us, while they proudly explained their photos – was a priceless experience,” said Sara Delaney, a senior program officer with Episcopal Relief and Development, one of the peer organizations that sent a participant to join in the evaluation. Other organizations that participated in the evaluation were Mercy Corps, PCI, and ACDI/VOCA. These peer organizations shared their knowledge throughout the process and brought the experience back to their home organizations for further dissemination.

Using photos to tell stories

The photographers then gathered as a group and told their stories to one another using prints of their photos, and the group worked to identify common themes.  They then presented their findings to the larger community, which gave feedback as to whether the themes and pictures were consistent with their own experience.

For the staff evaluation, they were asked to come up with a story from their experience of the project as examples of the most significant changes they perceived, and to draw a picture to accompany each. The staff then gathered as a group and identified common themes in their stories.

On the last day of the evaluation, project staff and photographers gathered together and everybody presented to everybody else to compare perspectives.

A womn from the LGI project in Bihar, India tells her story to LWR staffer Andrea Greise, right, and evaluation team member Meena Bilgi, foreground.

The photographers were able to document some significant shifts in gender roles in their families and communities as a result of the LWR project. Baburam Hasda, a participant from Bihar, India, took several photos that showed men helping out in tasks that previously had been carried out solely by women. For example, harvesting rice from the paddy and carrying it back for threshing had been a task only women performed. And now they grow so much more rice, it’s hard for the women to carry it, so the men taken it on.

Baburam Hasda
Baburam Hasda’s photo shows Rammohan Hasda bringing rice harvested from his field to thresh. Before, women did it and it was heavy. Now men and women are sharing the work.

A richer and more nuanced evaluation

Ultimately, the photos and stories have been compiled into three evaluation reports and a photobook that provides a unique and innovative evaluation of the LGI projects. Project evaluators found that the end result produced an evaluation that was richer and more nuanced than traditional evaluation methods, which meant it was better able to showcase not only that gender integration contributed to better food security programming, but also how it happened.

Arthur Nkubito, a program manager with LWR Uganda, called it “a good technique that provides an alternative approach to quantitative data collection and analysis.” He especially enjoyed watching the process of each group telling their own story through photography or drawing, and then coming to consensus on what they perceived as the most significant changes.

Rakhi Bhattacharya, country director for LWR India, admitted she was apprehensive that they were giving cameras to people who had never before used one. “But with half day of practice and the pictures they took, it really surprised me,” she says. “I could see that felt very empowered and confident.”

Efulans Nakirada
Efulans Nakirada took this photo of Faruk and Joy Mugambe, participants in the LGI project in Uganda, as they wash clothes together, previously a task only done by women.

To learn more about LGI and LWR’s gender integration work, visit lwr.org/gender.

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