Evaluating community development
Community development initiatives are by their very nature iterative and emergent. At the start, it is not clear what they will look like, how they will be delivered, or even what outcomes they will aim to achieve. Conversations between engaged community members shape understandings, intentions and actions, additionally, outcomes are affected by interdependencies. However, with governments increasingly focused on accountability, community organisations receiving government funding are being required to evaluate their community development initiatives – reporting on their effectiveness and outcomes. Community development theorists and practitioners have raised concerns about the appropriateness of this expectation. Indeed, traditional formative and summative evaluation are not well-suited to community development. However, alternative approaches to evaluation have evolved as evaluators have grappled with their role in empowering communities to take ownership of evaluation and in supporting interventions into complex, adaptive systems. Developmental evaluation is one such approach. In a developmental evaluation, the evaluator facilitates data-based reflection and decision-making to support the ongoing development of an initiative. A case study of the national Dementia Friendly Communities program evaluation illustrates how a developmental evaluation approach has supported a community development initiative in practice and highlights what is required for this to work.
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