Episode 35: How participant feedback helps nonprofits and communities

There is one major problem with the way we’ve been talking about evaluations. Through the evaluative process, we objectify the experiences of our participants, but what’s lacking from the current discussion is inclusion of participants as the subject of the program.

What has been their experience with your program? How can you improve it from their perspective?

Unfortunately, even when organizations include things like satisfaction surveys or forums for participant feedback, it can be what researchers call a “sham-ritual.” Essentially, they mean that organizations ask participants for feedback symbolically, as opposed to truly valuing their input.

At the individual level, all of us in the nonprofit space value participant input. But, without the proper systems in place, we could be guilty of the sham-ritual too. So, how can you ensure that your evaluations include participants in a way that is not a symbolic, sham-ritual?

That’s the question researchers Kingston, Furneaux, de Zwaan, and Alderman considered in their article, Avoiding the accountability ‘sham-ritual’: An agonistic approach to beneficiaries’ participation in evaluation within nonprofit organizations.

Here’s what you can expect to take away from this episode…

⦿ Why a democratic evaluative process is important

⦿ How evaluations can be used empower participants

⦿ Evaluation frameworks for both short-term and long-term participant engagements


⦿ [4:18] Rather than coming in and saying we’re a nonprofit and we are going to help you, this empowers participants to see themselves as agents in creating change.
⦿ [5:45] They are not just participants in the nonprofit’s program who receive assistance, they are also important stakeholders who contribute to the success of the organization.
⦿ [8:48] If the organization can figure out how to overcome these barriers or design an evaluation form that bypasses them, the authors indicate the participants could feel more ownership and control, they would participate more in the organization’s programs, their self-esteem and self-confidence could increase, and all of this would aid in their rehabilitation.
⦿ [11:41] The nonprofit from Case A is much smaller than Case B’s, they serve far fewer participants, but their service model is long-term engagement whereas in Case B, participants only engage with the nonprofit on a short-term basis or even on a one-off basis.
⦿ [14:11] From the data collected in these two case studies, the authors propose two evaluative processes- one for organizations with long-term and ongoing engagement with participants and another for organizations with short-term or episodic engagement with participants.
⦿ [17:22] Another key takeaway is that evaluation can be a judgmental process. But when you include participants in designing the evaluations, you can learn about what outcomes are important to them.

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⦿ Article: Avoiding the accountability ‘sham-ritual’: An agonistic approach to beneficiaries’ participation in evaluation within nonprofit organizations
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