What would Friere have to say about Evaluation?

Paulo Friere remains one of the most inspiring figures in literacy and facilitation. His model for guided mastery of language has led to the development of approaches such as REFLECT, of which we are huge fans.

Freire’s rejection of the ‘banking’ model of education – where information is ‘deposited’ in the heads of learners – and his acknowledgement of education as inherently political are insights that we believe can offer great value to the practice of evaluation.

For instance, learning is one of the two core purposes of evaluation (the other being accountability). Yet, and we know this from experience as well as observation, the primary means of communicating evaluation insights is through the Evaluation Report. There is no greater example of the ‘banking model’ than these tomes of logic.

Important as evaluation reports are (for other reasons), they are recognised as being a poor mechanism for encouraging learning to take place. Part of the reason for this – indeed, we believe a significant one – is that the written word is inefficient as a means for enabling literacy. In this case we are talking about ‘impact literacy’ – by which we mean ‘a deep understanding of the impacts of a programme that enable people to develop their own deeper insights of the implications for their work’.

Ideally, we believe, people who commission and manage evaluations should come away from the process with a better understanding of the ‘core components’ of the programme that they are involved in. Impact literacy means that they can disassemble and reassemble these components to create new avenues for creating social value. This echoes Friere’s concept of literacy enabling people to reassemble syllables to create new combinations, words and meanings. Otherwise, evaluation clients are left relying largely on the implications and recommendations identified by evaluation teams as they plan their next steps.

Similarly, we believe that Friere’s insight into language-as-power is equally valid when considering evaluation. Part of the evaluation process is to create new meaning, and to validate which meanings have value. The danger of the independent analysis of meaning, followed by a fait accompli presentation of ‘what counts’ is the domination of evaluation participants by paradigms which they may not be aware of, subscribe to, or benefit from.

In answer to these questions, we are experimenting with applying Frierian thinking to the design of evaluation processes. We are calling our experiment FIRE – Frierian Inspired Reflexive Evaluation. Some of the ideas that we are thinking about include:

  • Using visual imagery instead of the written word to introduce concepts that are meaningful to evaluation participants
  • Introducing facts and data as participants explore their world and reassemble the building blocks of the programmes that they are involved with
  • Understanding and defining what we mean by ‘Impact Literacy’ and the level of usability or learning that should benchmark an evaluation process

Can Friere help improve evaluation? What do you think?