Evaluations are more useful, accurate, and powerful when they are designed and implemented in collaboration with the intended audience. A recent EnCompass-led evaluation of more than 60 rule of law projects around the world illustrates the power of participatory evaluation. Our team used Appreciative Inquiry approaches throughout the process to foster excitement and ownership among evaluation stakeholders. The result is a set of findings, conclusions, and recommendations that emphasize learning to improve future programming.

At a recent post-evaluation debrief, a client representative told our team they valued how we engaged their program teams and encouraged conversation, and that the participatory process helped the team feel they were guiding the evaluation, along with their grantees.

An Appreciative, Participatory Evaluation Approach

The 14-month ex post evaluation focused on rule of law–related projects funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) during fiscal years 2011 to 2016. The aim was to assess the relevance, impact, and sustainability of DRL’s rule of law portfolio. The evaluation team, comprising EnCompass LLC and New-Rule LLC, employed a deeply participatory process with the intended audience throughout the evaluation. This included multiple actions to synthesize and integrate their inputs at key stages: a full-day, in-person design workshop, followed by virtual design sessions, up-front collaboration with DRL and grantees before fieldwork began, an early data validation workshop during analysis, and a workshop to co-create conclusions and recommendations.

The evaluation generated conclusions and recommendations for relevance, impact, and sustainability (the primary lines of inquiry) and for enhancing the engagement of local stakeholders and marginalized populations. Drawing on the evidence collected during the evaluation, including workshops with grantees in several countries, the team developed a strategic framework for the portfolio. During the post-evaluation debrief, our client noted that having the evaluation and strategic framework had immediately led to a refinement of requests for proposals for future work.

The strategic framework reflects inputs from grantees and others who are implementing rule of law programming around the world.

The strategic framework reflects inputs from grantees and others who are implementing rule of law programming around the world.

Opportunities for Future Rule of Law Programming

DRL’s important and unique contributions to fostering rule of law throughout the world are supported by evidence presented throughout the evaluation report. Although the evaluation scope was retrospective, the findings, conclusions, and recommendations were intended to inform DRL‘s ongoing contributions to rule of law. In developing this report, the team sought to distill and present observations and suggestions that would empower DRL to better understand the aspirations, concerns, and challenges of those who implement rule of law programs. It is thus intended to both present opportunities for internal changes and invite exploration of changes that can be implemented in collaboration with those involved in DRL’s programs.

Photo by Michael Coghlan via Creative Commons