Views from the Front
by Noelia Pintos and Leigh O’Donoghue
The Global Evaluation initiated by the The Salvation Army’s International Projects Office had many benefits. Obvious plus-points were that it identified good and bad practice and made recommendations for improving the way The Salvation Army runs its community development projects. An added bonus was that local project staff were actively involved in the evaluation process as in-country team members and were able to learn from the process and develop new knowledge and skills.
|Taking home produce from a greenhouse in Bolivia|
|Lettuces grow in one of the Bolivian greenhouses|
|Noelia reviews project achievements with other in-country team members|
|A women’s meeting, part of a hospital outreach programme in Cochabamba, Bolivia|
|Leigh (right) with community members in Myanmar|
|The evaluation team looks at water projects in Indonesia with members of the local community|
Noelia Pintos (South America West Territory) and Leigh O’Donoghue (Salvation Army Australia Development Office) explain what they gained from the evaluation process.
First of all, I’m not a professional in this subject. I began as secretary to the projects secretary but, after only two months, I was put in charge of the territory’s projects department. I was alone, but with the guidance of International Headquarters (IHQ) and the goodwill of many who are responsible for projects in the donor territories I have learned a few things – but I still have far to go.
The evaluation was valuable because it gave me the opportunity to see firsthand some of the development projects.
Without doubt, my perspective on the projects changed enormously. From behind a desk and by means of letters and reports, one cannot envision the tremendous amount of work and effort put forth by officers, staff and community members in order to implement a project.
Participating in the evaluation, in particular watching and listening to John [Morris] and Fiona [Rose], taught me to be more attentive to the environment which surrounds a project. I also learned that there are key questions that one must ask in order to glean better information on the development of a project.
Hearing the comments made by Fiona and John during their visit allowed us to realise which things we were doing well, as a territory, and which needed improvement, in order to better realise the mission of the projects department – to ‘be a bridge between needs and donors’.
The evaluation exercise was also valuable because it enabled others to see our reality, and to appreciate the efforts that our people make to bring about the projects. They could see the high and arid mountains around Cochabamba, Bolivia, where the mobile clinic takes its medical services and health education to the remote communities.
They could see isolated places like Corqueamaya, where the officers live with minimal resources in cold temperatures, but where a greenhouse project has made a significant difference and brought blessing to the community.
I believe, also, that it was helpful for them to know that each development project has gone hand in hand with our ministry of taking the love of God to the communities.
Overall, the evaluation will give The Salvation Army a clearer vision and understanding of sustainability and will enable it to become more focused on community needs.
I have read about evaluations and we have contracted people to conduct them but to be part of an evaluation was a great opportunity. I was excited by what I would learn and I was not to be disappointed.
John and Fiona demonstrated just what depth of questioning is needed and what patience is required to ensure the correct message is conveyed and the correct information is received back.
It was also extremely valuable to sit down over a meal and discuss the day’s activities and findings and to analyse what had happened during the day. As we went out each day it became clear to me how, if I had the opportunity again, I would approach the project differently.
I also know more now about water programmes than I could ever learn from a book. I was glad I could be there in person to see the equipment faults, the importance of siting the well, the distances required between latrines and wells.
I found that many assumptions are made in the course of community development which mean a project fails to meet the objectives it was designed to achieve.
The evaluation has shown that we do many things right but also that there are areas in our systems and procedures that can be improved.
Evaluation says that we are serious about community development and that we are willing to make ongoing changes to our procedures in order to be more efficient and effective as a community development organisation.
Any changes should lead to more effective and efficient delivery of projects (including project design) which demonstrates to our donors that we are good stewards of their money and that our projects are good value for money. By being more effective and efficient we are also able to reach more people who in turn can be brought into The Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army is one of the most recognised brand names in Australia and it relies almost totally on its public image to obtain funding. The Australian public trusts The Salvation Army to be honest, accountable and responsible and to work for the person who is struggling in life.
But it’s not just about our public face – our private face should be squeaky clean too. The global evaluation has given the community development branch of The Salvation Army a chance to look at itself – to have a mirror held up to our faces so we can see what is good about ourselves, what works well and which areas we can celebrate. But it has also shown us weaknesses and flaws that can be strengthened and repaired.
Another obvious benefit from the whole evaluation is to see in more detail what work is being done in other territories.
The evaluation, and the opportunity to meet together at the end of the process, has given us an opportunity to come together and see ourselves as one organisation – not a series of separate, competing entities.
I’m reminded of a spider’s web – intricate, beautifully structured and incredibly strong – with one goal. As an organisation, The Salvation Army can be a strong, viable and effective force in the world of community development with one goal – to save souls and serve suffering humanity.
Noelia Pintos is from South America West Territory and
Leigh O’Donoghue is from The Salvation Army's Australia Development Office