This edited volume by Ratna M Sudarshan and Rajib Nandi is a collection of ten contributions by Ranjani K Murthy, Pallavi Gupta, Srinidhi Raghavan, Sonal Zaveri, Shubh Sharma, Renu Khanna, Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, Venu Arora, Seema Kulkarni, Sneha Bhat, Vasundhara Kaul, Neha Sanwal and the editors themselves, who are feminist researchers, practitioners and evaluators associated with the four-year research and capacity building programme on feminist evaluation coordinated by the Institute of Social Studies Trust and supported by the International Development Research Centre, Canada, and the Ford Foundation, New Delhi.
The arrangement of the contributions is very interesting. The first few chapters introduce the reader to the benefits of feminist evaluation particularly for projects aimed at bringing about social equity. Gender-transformative evaluation is measured by Ranjani Murthy against gender-blind, gender-instrumental and gender-specific evaluation. This essay also makes out a case for the documentation and dissemination of indigenous and inclusive experiences of evaluation frameworks that are more sensitive to issues of diversity. Pallavi Gupta and Srinidhi Raghavan lay stress on the importance of considering institutional histories in any evaluation, and argue for an enabling evaluation process that encourages the use of participatory methods and the engagement of the evaluated organization’s team in the processes followed and in the introspection of existing power dynamics within that organization. They argue that this would lead to greater possibilities and interventions for change.
The next few essays narrate lessons learned with the use of feminist approaches to evaluation. Experiences with UFE (Utilization Focused Evaluations) or evaluation frameworks that incorporate in its design the possible uses of the findings of the evaluation process is discussed by Sonal Zaveri, who focuses on the advantages of utilization-focused evaluations executed through a feminist lens. The essay by Shubh Sharma and Ratna Sudarshan argue for the relevance of, and the constructivist learning from the use of a feminist collaborative approach to evaluation. They illustrate that a feminist lens in collaborative evaluation can improve the quality of data and contribute to more gender-responsive programme strategies. Rajib Nandi’s experience is slightly different as he discusses the transformative impact of the use of a feminist approach to evaluation of even an otherwise gender-blind project, while also narrating the dilemmas and challenges faced in the process.
Other essays in the book deal with outlining frameworks and indicators for gender-transformative evaluations. Renu Khanna and Enakshi Thukral’s work, centered primarily on prevention of child marriage, highlights a multi-pronged and multi-system approach and strategies such as capacity building, role modelling and empowering adolescent girls to be change agents. Venu Arora’s recommendations have evolved from communication theories, practice and experience with impact assessment and include community ownership of the content of communication, participation in the evaluation process, critique of inherent patriarchal structures, the encouragement of local change agents and the use of the four P’s—Power, Politics, Purpose and Profit—for developing self-reflectivity and change. Seema Kulkarni and Sneha Bhat demonstrate that a feminist lens could be adopted even in the evaluation of seemingly gender-blind initiatives, such as those in the water or irrigation sectors. This essay contrasts an efficiency and performance-driven evaluation exercise with one that is focused on participation, democracy, equity and social justice, making a case of course for the latter as being more gender-responsive and equitable. The final contribution by Vasundhara Kaul and Neha Sanwal brings out the need for a gendered lens in the evaluation of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme, highlighting the importance of an analysis of class and gendered power relations as well as of women’s involvement in decision-making, even in evaluating the use and maintenance of these public services.
This edited volume with its no frills, no fuss aesthetic cover, is very useful for any social science research scholar and for those engaged in programme planning, monitoring or evaluation; for those in both the NGO or the public sectors. One undoubtedly infers at the end of the book that all evaluation ought to use principles of feminist evaluation. Further, any evaluation that does not consider the intersection of not only gender but also caste, class, disability, religion and culture, would be inherently flawed by the very fact that in ignoring these core defining concepts, one’s understanding of the reality is in fact blinkered. The essays in this volume very successfully bring out the possibilities of greater equity and gender sensitivity with the use of what is termed here as ‘Feminist Evaluation’. Kudos are owed to all the contributors and the editors.
Shaila Desouza is Head, Department of Women’s Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Goa University, Goa.