At an Orientation Course we ask participants to complete an evaluation at the end of each day if not every session. As well the staff debrief each day to check progress and make adjustments where required. Before the next course we analyse all the evaluations and adjust sessions and approaches, or introduce new sessions, to meet emerging needs in the field.
Re-assessment and evaluation is a part of the everyday interaction of staff and between staff and overseas communities, staff and state representatives, staff and participants etcetera; it occurs at all levels of Palms’ work. All courses, strategies, placement outcomes and interviews are assessed at various stages of execution. We are not obsessive, but we do like to know if we are doing what we think we are doing and if the beneficiaries are really benefitting.
Primarily, evaluation is about determining if our vision and mission is being achieved in keeping with our key value of solidarity. Are skills being exchanged between volunteers and partner communities? Are Australian communities and partner communities being engaged so that each increases their awareness and enthusiasm to encourage just, sustainable, interdependent and peaceful development? Is all of our work advancing mutually enriching and challenging relationships of understanding, acceptance and care, to the point of sharing worlds of meaning in the deepest sense, with people of a culture different from one’s own.
The global mission program and fair trade café exist to achieve all this, but their existence per se does not demonstrate that we do achieve the required outcomes at all times. Appropriate tools or instruments to measure particular activities are required. For example we ask partner communities and volunteers to complete an evaluation form at six and eighteen months into the placement and again not more than three months after completion of the placement. There are many questions around the achievement of specific objectives and the terms and conditions of the placement, but one of the best questions is one added in the last couple of years: (Even the evaluation instrument is evaluated). “Please describe the ‘Most Significant Change’ that has occurred during the placement.” Daniel Gilfillan’s recent response after six months in placement shows just how useful it is to ask one to describe the ‘Most Significant Change’.
Daniel wrote thus: I have “… begun to fully appreciate the notion of capacity building and mentoring. … I have been working with my friends and colleagues to build their confidence and knowledge and to facilitate their engagement with Australian organisations and communities.” “Building their knowledge and confidence” may be interpreted as a little paternalistic. It is always a danger with being either a development worker or a missionary that one becomes messianic about saving others.
Further on in his response it is revealed, however, that Palms’ preparation has successfully orientated Daniel for a mission that challenges one to embrace a real sense of exchange and reciprocity: “With my growing understanding of the local language and of international organisations in Timor, I am more and more able to participate in, to add to, and learn from the Church and wider community in Ermera.” This along with the reference to “friends and colleagues” earlier also confirms that Daniel’s mission is one of dialogue and ‘sharing worlds of meaning’ thus producing the solidarity asked for in Palms’ values statement.
As well, allowing an open evaluation of “most significant change” sees Daniel comment on what any number of other questions could not have anticipated: “My unexpected return to Australia (during civil unrest) provided an excellent opportunity to develop and strengthen links with Australian communities and organisations.” Such an evaluation suggests not only what one can make of difficult circumstances, but also that Palms might in future plan a placement break to achieve these ends. It also suggests some success in our endeavour not to allow a Palms’ mission to be one that is done by a messianic missionary, as can so often be the danger when it is an individual pursuit.
The space here only allows a brief examination of Palms’ evaluation and it is by no means perfect. We cannot expect to cover everything in the time available; it must be kept in balance. However if anyone wishes to assist evaluate the evaluation process please feel free to ask and we will send copies of all our instruments.