I’ve worked on or reviewed hundreds of projects inflicting training on small African businesses. They all follow a similar pattern; find some people selling fruit by the side of the road (“entrepreneurs”), find a classroom (“supportive learning environment”) and encourage them to sit through tedious lectures (“participatory learner-centric delivery”). Now I’m becoming a beneficiary myself – I’ve just started a small business training programme, running in London.
It’s important that evaluators understand the perspectives of the participants of the programmes they evaluate. There’s no better way than becoming a participant yourself. I’ve only been to the introductory class, so it’s too soon to judge what it’s like so far. But there are three features which reminded me of aid programmes that I’ve evaluated.
Firstly, they haven’t asked for any payment – the class is completely free, and I don’t make any commitment other than showing up. Consequently, I don’t currently feel particularly committed to the class, and am more likely to drop out than if I’d paid any money for it. Secondly, it was organised at the last minute – I got a call on Tuesday asking me to go to the introduction on Thursday. So I’m already busy for half the course anyway. Thirdly, monitoring and evaluation is a big part of the course - we’re constantly being asked to sign attendance forms. I’m professionally sympathetic, but also slightly frustrated!
In international development, it’s hard to take on the perspective of the group you are there to support – so I’m enjoying this unexpected opportunity for role reversal.