Evaluating Outcomes That Really Matter in an adp an Introduction to Transformative Evaluation

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Evaluating Outcomes That Really Matter in an ADP

An Introduction to Transformative Evaluation
Frank G. Cookingham, WVI Director Evaluation

January 2008

This introduction is taken from a more extensive monograph. It outlines the main points in the monograph without many of the illustrations and specific guidelines.
ADP refers to Area Development Programs in World Vision. An ADP involves working with communities in a defined geographic area for 10-15 years. Activities are planned and implemented in several sectors of development in ways to empower communities to manage their own development more effectively. The primary desired outcome is transformed lives and social structures such that there is a powerful witness to the Kingdom of God in the midst of today’s world.
Transformative Evaluation (TE) is evaluation of transformational development programs that enables groups of stakeholders to clarify the outcomes that really matter, especially from a holistic transformation perspective. The defining features of TE include the following:

  • The primary objective of TE is to learn about the effectiveness of transformational development programs with emphasis on change that is occurring related to love for God and neighbor. Secular outcomes may be examined, such as changes in food security, but from a transformational perspective, such as attitudes toward sharing food resources with those most in need and understanding how God provides for the well being of people even in times of food scarcity. To achieve this objective, spiritual disciplines are interwoven with typical program evaluation techniques.

  • A participatory approach is used with groups of stakeholders to plan the evaluation and interpret the results. The primary stakeholder group is development facilitators and managers. The key question explored by TE with them is: How effective is our current practice against our understanding of the ideals for transformational development?

It is assumed that the evaluator is a mature Christian that seeks to work in ways consistent with the teachings of Jesus. It is also assumed that the evaluator has a basic understanding of how to collect and analyze trustworthy evidence such that his or her conclusions are regarded as credible by knowledgeable other persons.

The image for transformative evaluation is a longer period of time that includes study, prayer, fasting, scripture search, and visioning interwoven with evaluation planning, data collection and analysis, and report preparation. The evaluation is an occasion for evaluation team members and others to grow spiritually as they seek God’s will for transformational development.
The material is organized in three parts: evaluation content, evaluation style, and evaluation activities.

Part I. Evaluation Content

The backdrop for the content portion of a transformative evaluation design is the nature of transformational development. This is summarized in the next section. The following section summarizes the evolution of my thinking about evaluating community development. The final section discusses various groups of questions that can guide data collection and analysis.

Transformational development

Bryant Myers (1999) has described transformational development in detail. Any one interested in practicing transformative evaluation should study his book, Walking with the Poor, periodically.
The theme is that transformational development is based on holistic thinking; therefore, the key to effective transformational development rests in the mindset of the development workers. The implication is that transformative evaluation methodology should be based on holistic thinking, and should examine the extent to which holistic thinking is present in the program being evaluated. This can be learned by exploring the prevailing stories in the community and the development agency.
Transformation is much more than change. Transformation is profound holistic change at the root of being. A transformed person is sustained by kingdom values. A transformed society is sustained by kingdom values. Any individual or social change that does not involve living by kingdom values is not transformation.
Transformational development, which is based on holistic thinking and practice, enables community members to realize their true vocation as children of God. It enables them to be more loving and just in their relationships with self, with each other, with the community, with God, and with their environment. Transformational development enables people to confront evil in their personal lives and in the community. Suffering that restores right relationships is an integral part of transformational development; Jesus on the cross is an essential image for understanding transformational development. The core of a transformational development strategy is enabling relationships to grow in consistency with kingdom values. Meeting physical needs of individuals or reforming social structures are means to this end, not ends in themselves.
The central feature of transformational development is the life style of the development agent. The lives of the disciples were transformed as they interacted with Jesus day after day, miracle after miracle, trail after trial. God willing, the lives of community members may be transformed as they interact with a mature Christian development agent day after day.

Transformative evaluation as it has evolved in my thinking

Before I describe the distinctive features of transformative evaluation, I summarize the phases in the evolution of my thinking about evaluating community development since I have been with World Vision. See Cookingham (2002b) for a detailed description of the journey, which includes my thinking about how my view of evaluation is related to other approaches to evaluation.

First phase of the evolution: evaluation as facilitation

Often “evaluation” refers to a written document that contains conclusions and recommendations about a program. This is the result of a long process of accumulating evidence to answer significant questions about the value of a program. Evaluation work will be more effective, however, if other significant outcomes are kept in mind.
First, an evaluation process can develop greater understanding among stakeholder groups about the program theory or logic. This happens during the planning phase of an evaluation that is based on evaluation utilization principles combined with a participatory approach.
Second, an evaluation process can increase understanding among stakeholder groups about how reality is perceived differently. Groups can develop a greater appreciation for how different perceptions contribute to more meaningful interpretations of evidence. This happens when data collection and analysis is done by a team that includes representatives from different stakeholder groups.
Third, persons who participate in evaluation work are more likely to apply evaluation findings. They are more likely to make personal resolutions about changing their practices to be more effective.
These considerations led me to define program evaluation as follows.

Definition – Program Evaluation
Program evaluation is the facilitation of informed judgments by stakeholders about the merit or worth of a program, based on verifiable evidence.

Second phase: Evaluation from a holistic view

Colleagues within World Vision challenged this definition because it made no reference to the spiritual dimension of community development. As I struggled to respond to criticism of this secular view of evaluation, I read Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society. Then in 1997 I formulated a definition for holistic program evaluation.

Definition -- Holistic Program Evaluation
Holistic program evaluation is the facilitation of informed judgments about the merit or worth of a program, based on verifiable evidence, in relation to people loving God and neighbor within the scope of the program.

The terms “holism” and “holistic” mean different things to people who are concerned about the relationships between physical and spiritual dimensions of development. I choose to focus on concern for love of God and neighbor as core characteristics of transformational development. Holistic program evaluation, then, collects and analyzes evidence about the relationships between a program and people loving God and neighbor.

On one hand, a program can achieve its objectives for health and economic development efficiently and effectively. It may still be judged as having little worth by a holistic evaluation if it has not had any effect on people loving God and neighbor. Worse, a successful health and economic development program could increase the disparities between the poor and the less poor in a community. Such disparity hinders greater expressions of love for God and neighbor.
On the other hand, suppose that a program fails to achieve its health and economic development objectives due to factors that overwhelmed program efforts. It may be judged in a holistic evaluation as having worth because it has encouraged and enabled more people to love God and neighbor.
The purpose of a holistic program evaluation is to – according to God’s will – identify and interpret God’s activity within the scope of the program.

Third phase: Is impact evaluation appropriate?

As I worked out implications for this holistic perspective, I began to see that evaluating the impact of transformational development has a number of challenges that may not be resolvable. I summarized my thinking in six points.
1. Development practitioners use the term “impact” imprecisely. Careful use of the term will deepen our understanding of transformational development.
Practitioners often use ‘impact” when they mean “effect” or “outcome.” Lawrence Mohr (1992) defines impact as some measure of the difference between the actual value of the outcome after program implementation and the estimated value of the outcome if the program had not been implemented. In other words, “impact” refers to documented differences that can be attributed to the program rather than to something else.
There are different schools of thought, however, on what constitutes a cause-effect relationship and what evidence is required to establish that a particular relationship is a causal one. The fact that so many factors outside the control of a development program can affect the outcomes makes it very difficult to measure development impact in a meaningful way. It becomes even more difficult to defend a measure of development impact when the five observations below are considered. As practitioners of transformational development we should not be afraid to acknowledge this fact of life. As stewards of God’s resources we should avoid being pressured into allocating resources to a measurement task that cannot be done properly.
2. There is a difference between making a claim that impact has occurred and describing evidence that supports such a claim. We need to become better at describing evidence, and drawing conclusions supported by that evidence.
Personal stories that impact has occurred need to be analyzed along with other types of evidence. Such stories can be powerful evidence for impact when they are consistent with other trustworthy information.
3. God loves all people in creation, regardless of goals and objectives they set for themselves, dreams they have, or visions they create. Let's measure impact to understand better what God is doing, not just to understand how well we are doing.
4. Things that really matter to us as followers of Jesus may not be measurable in the sense of using numbers in a meaningful way. But trustworthy evidence can be collected and analyzed objectively to support conclusions about impact.
Consider the following goal: To distribute emergency food so that people survive with dignity. Within the scientific worldview impact could be measured be comparing the number of deaths that occurred during the food distribution with the estimated number of deaths that would have occurred if no food had been distributed. Since dignity is a quality that varies in individuals according to many factors, some of which are unknown, within the scientific worldview program impact on dignity could not be measured.
But relevant objective evidence could be collected to support a conclusion about the relationship between people's dignity and program operations.

  • Program personnel could describe what they did, and why, to maintain the dignity of people. Experts in emergency food distribution could then review this description and describe what they would have done differently in the same situation. Their failure to advocate different procedures is confirmation of the appropriateness of operations for achieving the goal.

  • Survivors could be asked to describe their experience during the distribution period. References to the attitudes and behavior of program personnel towards them are clues to how well dignity was maintained.

5. Scientists focus attention on discovering relationships among things that don't change over time. They focus on relationships that are not affected by people's perceptions or feelings. They focus on relationships that are predictable. Christians focus attention on relationships that can change mysteriously. They are interested in relationships that are dramatically affected by people's perceptions or feelings. They are more interested in relationships that are transformed. Scientific methods can help Christians understand the impact of transformation, but they are not adequate by themselves.
Although there is much pressure from different stakeholder groups to do impact evaluations, their expectations often are unrealistic. I recommend that meager resources for evaluation work in World Vision be concentrated on pre-project research and needs analysis, and rigorous monitoring throughout project implementation. Other types of evaluation should be done when an analysis of evaluation feasibility shows that they will yield useful information to justify the evaluation cost.

Current phase: TE

Definition – Transformative Evaluation (TE)
Transformative evaluation is evaluation of a transformational development program that includes the objective of renewing the evaluator’s thinking and stakeholders’ views regarding what really matters in transformational development.

To accomplish this objective, TE examines the sustainability of profound holistic change that is taking place in people and social relationships as the development program is implemented. Particular attention is given to understanding the attitudes and behaviors of development workers, and how those attitudes and behaviors influence change in people and communities related to transformation.

I still believe that effective program evaluation involves facilitation of judgments by stakeholders about the merit and worth of the program, based on verifiable evidence. I still believe that collecting and analyzing evidence about the ways in which a program has affected how people love God and neighbor, or do not love God and neighbor, is holistic program evaluation. But transformational development can be viewed in other ways, so evaluation of a transformational development program may focus on other forms of evidence that support different perspectives on program merit and worth.
TE is planned and implemented FOR transformation of people’s thinking about the core objectives for transformational development. It collects trustworthy evidence regarding the extent to which such objectives have been achieved. It should be a profound learning event for everyone who participates in the evaluation, or seriously studies the evaluation reporting.
In planning transformative evaluation there are two primary considerations.

  • The questions and topics that will be explored by the evaluation is the first consideration. This is the evaluation content.

  • The second is the style of the evaluation. This is the set of activities that enhances the possibility of transformed thinking to occur in stakeholders as the evaluation is planned and implemented. This includes methodology for collecting and analyzing evidence, but it goes beyond the typical scientific considerations to include spiritual activities.

For those who are concerned that spiritual activities are not objective and therefore not appropriate for program evaluation, I encourage them to consider the advice of Richard Foster (1998, p.23). “Let me suggest that we take an experiential attitude toward spiritual realities. Like any other scientific endeavor, we form a hypothesis and experiment with it to see if it is true or not. If our first experiment fails, we do not despair or label the whole business fraudulent. We reexamine our procedure, perhaps adjust our hypothesis, and try again. We should at least have the honesty to persevere in this work to the same degree we would in any field of science. The fact that so many are unwilling to do so betrays not their intelligence but their prejudice.”

Evaluation topics

In the typical midterm project evaluation (end-of-phase ADP evaluation) the evaluator documents what has been accomplished against project goals, and explores reasons for both under- and over-accomplishment. Then recommendations are developed to enable accomplishment of appropriate goals effectively and efficiently within existing constraints including the project timeframe.
But does our desire to be in control of things by setting and achieving goals reflect rebellion against being submissive to God’s unfolding plan for salvation and redemption? If one purpose of program evaluation is to seek truth about progress toward goals, a broader purpose is to illuminate the truth that sets people free. This is done by describing the context within which program activities related to goals take place. There are important things to consider like the following.

  • There is a mix of motives that can be placed on a continuum from selfish gain to selfless service to those who are in need.

  • There is a mix of perceptions about God that range from God is at work for the greatest good of people from a divine perspective, to understanding God is irrelevant for describing the dynamics of community development.

  • There is a mix of faith touchstones from God is compassionate but single-mindedly focused on salvation, to people mean to do good deeds but get diverted easily.

Typically an evaluation involves searching for knowledge that we can use to change the world so that it is more like our vision of the good life. An alternative approach to evaluation involves seeking knowledge that we can use to worship and serve God in more ways in our day-by-day living.

In transformative evaluation progress toward project goals is examined in light of four overarching questions to guide the collection and interpretation of evidence. There are three specific features of transformational development that given special attentions. Then there is a frame for developing more specific questions related to Christ-centered witness, church partnerships, and spiritual formation of staff and community members.

Four overarching questions for an ADP midterm evaluation

  • In this area of communities, what aspects of sin are keeping people in bondage? (How can the content and style of the evaluation enable appropriate confession and repentance?)

  • In the area communities, what is God calling staff and various groups of development stakeholders to do about the present situation? (Use participatory scripture exercises and transformative prayer in the process of discerning appropriate recommendations based on sound evidence.)

  • What do staff, community members and other stakeholders envision for this area of communities that will make manifest God’s establishment of the Kingdom of God? (How can this evaluation enable Kingdom visioning?)

  • Do staff and community members (including church leaders) believe that God is powerful enough to transform this area of communities according to the overall purpose of transformational development? (What does evaluation evidence say about their belief and unbelief?)

Transformational development features

For World Vision, transformational development has three features that influence activities that are planned and implemented in communities. It is child focused, community based, and sustainable. This has implications for the content of an evaluation exercise.

First, transformational development is child focused.

Some, not all, implications of this include:

  1. Development activities are planned knowing how they will involve and affect the survival and well-being of children.

  2. Meeting needs of children is given priority, especially for health, basic education, spiritual and emotional nurture, and earning a future livelihood with dignity.

  3. Children are viewed as precious unique persons to be nurtured as they develop. They are not a source of income, nor are they a nuisance. They must be protected from abuse and exploitation.

  4. Children can be agents of transformation.

Children are included specifically in the evaluation design to determine if the work is child focused in these and other ways.

Second, transformational development is community based.

The primary implication of this is that people manage their own development by participating in the processes of visioning, designing long-term development strategies, planning interventions, implementing activities, and monitoring and evaluating results against the vision. The evaluation design should include data collection and analysis to show the extent to which the work is community based.
The goals of transformational development are achieved by facilitating holistic processes of change with these features.

  1. The change process belongs to the people, not the development agency (e.g., World Vision).

  2. Right relationships are at the core of the change process, not completing planned projects on time and within budget.

  3. The change process confronts personal and social evil by promoting truth telling, righteousness and justice. From a biblical perspective, history is a collage of moral dilemmas, moral judgments and moral consequences. Holistic change processes are centered on this perspective.

  4. The change process seeks to do no harm, and to enhance local capacities for peace.

Third, transformational development is sustainable.

Sustainability is defined as the community accepting responsibility for extending the transformational development process by growing and learning into the future. From a holistic perspective here are four aspects of sustainability. (Myers, 1999)

  1. Physical sustainability involves meeting basic needs for food, water, health, and economic production while being good stewards of the environment.

  2. Mental sustainability involves healing the marred image of the poor, and assisting people in learning how to learn.

  3. Social sustainability involves enhancing civil society so that it can confront the evil inherent in large social systems.

  4. Spiritual sustainability involves supporting the church as the place where persons come to understand the whole story and the whole gospel message, and are empowered through the reconciliation dynamic to live by kingdom values in their community.

Programming is planned to foster change that moves the community toward each category of sustainability. The evaluation should provide evidence regarding sustainability that can be interpreted meaningfully by the different groups of stakeholders.

Christian commitments triad

The overall purpose of transformational development can be stated as to enable people to know their true identity and true vocation, restore just and peaceful relationships, and confront the evil in principalities and powers. In terms of the Christ-centered triad for transformation initiatives developed in the Asia region, the purpose is achieved by concentrating on the spiritual formation of staff and community members, nurturing partnerships with the local churches and church bodies that address injustice and poverty, and witnessing to the gospel through the way that development activities are planned and implemented. A 3x3 matrix suggests questions to guide collection and interpretation of evidence. The matrix is intended to stimulate creative thinking about what really matters; don’t get bogged down trying to decide in which cell a particular question belongs.

True identity;

True vocation

Just and peaceful relationships

Confrontation of evil

Spiritual formation

How does the project encourage and enable various groups to deepen their faith while respecting diversity among faiths?
Examine evidence related to what people believe about their identity and vocation.
Examine evidence in the program design for enabling people to know their true identity and vocation, and evidence regarding implementation of relevant activities.

What do people say prevents people from living in harmony with each other? What do they say makes peaceful relationships possible?
Examine evidence related to the typical nature of relationships in the community: individuals with God, individuals with enemies, individuals with individuals for building community, individuals with self, and individuals with the environment (stewards rather than masters). How does the program design deal with facilitating just and peaceful relationships?

How do various stakeholders describe evil influences in the community?
What has been done through the project to help people confront evil and injustice?

Church partnerships

How do church leaders describe their mission to the community?
How do churches enable individuals to discover and appreciate their identity and their vocation?

In what ways to churches relate to each other?
How do churches deal with conflict in the community?

How do churches help people to understand the dynamics of sin and grace in their personal lives and in society?
How do churches support people in their struggles to resist evil in its various forms?

Christ-centered witness

How do project staff describe examples of witnessing through life, word, deed and sign?

What has the project done to encourage and enable reconciliation of various types of brokenness?

What do people say about how good and evil works in their lives?

For a more elaborate frame for developing evaluation questions see Cookingham (2003b). The evaluation team may create other frames as the members discuss the essential features of transformational development (see Transformational development: Core documents, 2003; Myers, 1999; Marshall, 1998).

Part II. Evaluation Style

To understand my description of transformative evaluation style and activities, we first need to discuss the characteristics of the holistic development worker and the role of spirituality for a Christian professional development worker. Then we will examine how spiritual disciplines can be integrated into an evaluation.

Characteristics of the holistic development worker

This section is primarily based on Myers, chapter 6.
Ultimately the effectiveness of transformational development comes down to people. Right relationships are an essential goal of transformational development, and people interacting with people change relationships. Development workers who have made the theory and values of transformational development their own, and who live out the theory and values in their day-to-day practice, will be used by God to make good things happen.

  1. Holistic practitioners are guided in all that they do by a collection of holistic attitudes.

  2. They are committed Christians with a passion for cultivating a biblical worldview in themselves and others.

  3. As disciples they are committed to continually seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in building sound character.

  4. As professionals they are committed to continually exploring the complexities of connecting their expertise with the needs of others in ways that heal, and being personally accountable for the outcomes.

  5. They discipline themselves to stay on the path of holistic practice.

Holistic mindset

Again, this material is based on Myers, chapter 6.
The following attitudes are foremost within a holistic mindset.

  1. Be a good, respectful neighbor.

The holistic practitioner is willing to give himself to others. He puts himself at their service without any agenda other than acknowledging that every person is a precious creation of God. She welcomes the other by making space for them in the situation.

  1. Be patient.

This is difficult, for donors want to see results immediately. The holistic practitioner takes as long as it takes to enable right relationships.

  1. Be humble before the facts.

I don’t know as much as I would like to know about this situation. You know more about it than I think you know.

  1. Be a learner with a repentant spirit.

My formal education is not sufficient for the task of facilitating transformational development. Nor is the formal education of the donor, or the technical consultant. Nor is the experience of the poor. All must be learners for development to have its most reconciling impact. Learning involves making mistakes. Be willing to admit mistakes to those who experience the consequences, and ask to be forgiven.

  1. Be willing to be surprised.

Every action carries a message, whether I know what it is or not. Every action, no matter how it is related to my intention, can heal or harm.

  1. Love the people and the churches, not the program.

  1. Act like people dependent on God.

Biblical worldview

Because our experience in the world reinforces a non-biblical worldview, we must work hard at cultivating a biblical worldview in others and ourselves that guides our development practice. This is necessary to deepen our understanding of the nature of God and how God relates to God’s people. This is necessary to have a vision for a better future that is consistent with the promises of God. (see Myers, Chapter 2)

Disciple of Jesus

As followers of Jesus, holistic practitioners must be active in a local fellowship of believers. This is the means by which Jesus teaches and inspires in today’s world.
As followers of Jesus they must be able to see the image of God in even the most desperate or despicable person, and they must believe that such a person can be called forth to realize his or her true identity and true vocation as a child of God. They must become friends with those they serve to create space in which relationships can be transformed. They must avoid creating barriers to being a good neighbor. They must understand themselves as stewards.

Development professional

FGC note. Being professional in this context means applying specialized knowledge about the various dimensions of sustainability in ways that liberate and empower communities. The concept of being a professional includes meeting challenges successfully that untrained persons cannot meet.
There are six characteristics of being a holistic development professional.

  1. Reason alone is insufficient.

The great challenge for the holistic practitioner is to overcome the dualistic thinking that separates scientific knowledge from supernatural knowledge, or reason from revelation. With a holistic mindset they need to understand the complexities of poverty and its many dimensions and expressions. FGC note. God is at the center of history as it unfolds in the form of changing dynamics between the poor and non-poor.

  1. Technical knowledge is not supreme.

Another challenge is to overcome the tendency to regard their specialized knowledge of development as the only knowledge of value in the community. With a holistic mindset they need to search for the truth in indigenous knowledge, as a gift from God, and create ways of connecting their knowledge, as a gift from God, with the indigenous knowledge. Through these connections the development worker’s story and the community story can converge toward the larger story.

  1. Problem solving is not the goal.

Yet another challenge is to overcome the tendency to regard themselves as experts in solving sector development problems. They need to develop skills in facilitating adult learning that empowers and liberates people. The danger in facilitating development in a professional manner is that it will disempower people rather than empower them.

  1. Biblical worldview is central.

A fourth challenge is to understand and appreciate the role of worldview in forming and changing values. Not everything that happens in the world can be explained in terms of cause and effect relationships. Divine intervention is real. “Trying to help people move from their traditional worldview while suffering from a modern scientific one helps neither the community nor the practitioner. Both the practitioner and the community are in need of a worldview that has the God of the Bible at the center.” (Myers, p.156)

  1. Confronting evil is necessary.

Fifth, the holistic development professional must be prepared to confront evil in its many forms. This means not being content with understanding the mechanics of sustainable agriculture, primary health care, water and sanitation management, schooling and micro-enterprise development. The professional development worker must be wise in the ways that political, economic and social systems and institutions harm and enhance. He or she must be prepared to make difficult ethical choices quickly in adverse circumstances.

  1. Learning goes on and on.

Finally, the professional practitioner documents what happens when he or she does something, and reflects on what that means. FGC note. The literature on reflective practice is relevant here.

Disciplined professional and spiritual formation

Holistic practitioners need to integrate being a mature Christian with being professional in the sense described above. There are six aspects of formation.

  1. Knowing who we are.

Holistic practitioners need to become aware of their assumptions about poverty and the poor and the reasons why poverty exists. In particular, they need to examine every instance of the modern flaw that separates the material from the spiritual.
They need to examine their understanding of how things work in the world, and how things can be changed. Then they need to present that understanding to the community and the Bible, and be willing to change their views through dialogue.
They need to examine their motivations, their own needs that are met by working in development.

  1. Becoming holistic disciples.

Holistic practitioners need to discover their own true identity and true vocation. To do that they must know the truth of God as it is contained in God’s word. Biblical literacy and doing theology are very important.
They must know the power of God. That power is greater than our own temptations and the evil forces at work in others as well as social systems and structures. Disciplined fasting and prayer are very important.
They must know the love of God at work in the real world. God is part of every explanation and at the center of every moral choice.
The key to facilitating transformational development; the only hope for effectively ministering to the poor and the oppressed; is living like Jesus lived. The worldly ways of living are contrary to Jesus’ way of living. You cannot follow the ways of the world and live like Jesus. You cannot live like Jesus and still follow the ways of the world. Yet, our tendencies and habits and inclinations are all aimed at following the ways of the world. In spite of this, by the grace of God, we can live like Jesus lived. We can, in our weaknesses, facilitate transformational development.

  1. Doing theology.

Doing theology involves learning how to point to the activity of God in everything, including the processes and outcomes of technical development work. The holistic practitioner becomes more capable of doing theology as he or she stays silent before the Bible as well as trying to understand it.
The indicator of transformation is radical change in attitude, not less poverty, not more effective social structures. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians (4:28, NIV), gave the best example I know of transformational development.
He [or she] who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his [or her] own hands, that he [or she] may have something to share with those in need.
This is an example of radical change in someone’s life. The person is to move from self-centeredness to other-centeredness, from committing sin against other people to having compassion for others, from exploiting the neighbor to caring for the neighbor.
What causes such radical change in a person? God does the transforming of individual lives, but God uses believers (disciples, followers of Jesus) in the process. How does God use believers?
Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans (12:1-2, NIV).
I urge you, brothers [and sisters], in view of God’s mercy [given to you], to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’ will is -- [God’s] good, pleasing and perfect will.

  1. Protecting our inner self.

The keys to protecting ourselves from being marred by the daily grind of poverty are to keep realistic expectations (we have a small role to play in a cosmic divine plan), interpret failure as a sign of our solidarity with Christ in bearing a cross, and beware of making an idol out of success. We love God and neighbor; God effects changes in our situation that are transforming.

  1. Practicing the gift of discernment to see everything around us from a kingdom perspective.

  1. Praying the kingdom.

Pray for restored identity and restored vocation, knowing that only God can do this.

Pray for God’s action in exposing god complexes in the non-poor, and for acts of repentance.

Pray for release from the idolatry of success, and patience to simply do what God created us to do.

Spiritual disciplines

To close the gap between our professional behavior as defined by the ways of the world and our conviction that living like Jesus is the way to facilitate transformational development, we can work hard at integrating spiritual disciplines into our evaluation work.
The typical image of an evaluation is data collection and analysis for several days or weeks that produces a written report of conclusions and recommendations. Typically data collection and analysis is guided by the scientific worldview without any critical reflection on where that worldview is in conflict with the Christ-centered worldview.
What really matters in transformational development, however, is inner transformation in community members that frees them from ingrained habits of sin that hinder them in loving God and neighbor. This inner transformation is God’s work; church pastors or community development facilitators cannot do it. But pastors and facilitators can create opportunities for people to realize that their longing for meaning in life can be satisfied through following Jesus. They create these opportunities by practicing spiritual disciplines themselves as they work alongside the poor to plan and implement appropriate development activities. Pastors and development facilitators who are practicing spiritual disciplines can see more objectively the fruits of inner transformation in others, and interpret the significance of development accomplishments and non-accomplishments from a transformation perspective.
Foster’s (1998) discussion of the inward spiritual disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting, and study) provides a platform for developing an evaluation style that encourages and enables transformational development. Practicing spiritual disciplines as the process of evaluation unfolds will allow team members to see and understand aspects of transformational reality that cannot be see or understood within the secular scientific worldview.


Study involves searching for the truth that sets us free. It is a process of paying attention to our experience and the experiences of others carefully and deliberately to influence our worldview. The follower of Jesus engages in study to allow his or her way of thinking to become more like Jesus. The focus is on the nature of God, and on the way to respond to God’s mysterious love for us in all of our relationships.
We pay attention to books and discourse, and we pay attention to acts and events in our search for truth. Foster describes four steps in any process of study.

  • One step is the regular repetition of attending to things that really matter. In transformative evaluation this includes examining again and again the teachings of Jesus, the key elements of transformational development, and the principles for determining the trustworthiness of information.

  • A second step is concentration. We live in an age that values distraction and multi-tasking. Study is more effective when the mind is centered on what is being studied, whether it is a book or action taking place around us. Try to study written materials or discourse in a quiet, uncluttered setting. In action settings use simple tools to assist you with observations, and allow yourself ample time in the setting.

  • Comprehension is a third step. This involves examining something from many different perspectives, and comparing what you see and hear with what you know to be true.

  • Finally, reflect on the significance of what you are studying. What really matters about this in relation to God’s redeeming work taking place here and now?

There are three areas of study that should be woven into the transformative evaluation process.

  • The nature of transformational development needs to be studied by evaluation team members and stakeholders.

  • Evaluation approaches that are consistent with fundamental principles of transformational development need to be studied. Participatory and empowerment approaches to evaluation are especially helpful.

  • The nature of the evolving Kingdom of God as we await the return of Jesus.

Observing what is real in things, events, and actions

In transformative evaluation it is important to observe the setting for transformational development carefully and prayerfully. To the extent possible, immerse yourself in the setting for an extended period of time. At least form an evaluation team that includes people deeply familiar with the setting, and have conversations about the physical environment and how it affects the way that people think and act.
Interview people in their everyday settings as much as possible. In every interview pay attention to more than the words that are said. What emotions are expressed? What attitudes appear to be underneath emotions and actions? Each evaluation team member should discuss observations with others in the team, and together the team explores what they mean from a transformational development perspective.
Each evaluation team member is encouraged to keep a daily journal of his or feelings and responses experienced as the evaluation proceeds. God may be speaking to you about something important in those feelings and reactions.

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