John Hamerlinck
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Evaluating Rural ABCD Efforts

user image 2022-10-27
By: John Hamerlinck
Posted in: Reflections and Ideas

During the recent Unconference, I participated in a session on evaluating and measuring the success of some seemingly unmeasurable ABCD efforts. In our small group discussion, I mentioned that ABCD projects might consider the community capitals framework for measuring progress. Successful ABCD efforts are frequently collections of small projects that came about as a result of small groups of people deciding to do something to improve their community, that didn’t require anybody’s permission to do.

Some of those small projects might enhance cultural capital, or natural capital in small ways, but make valuable contributions to someone else’s projects that are seemingly unrelated at the time, because those projects were focused on built capital, or financial capital. When you look at how the parts contribute to the whole, you see how personal relationships developed in one project created the underpinnings, or trust for another project to succeed.

In evaluation, you measure what you value. In ABCD you value increased connections and relationships. You value shared leadership. You value the wisdom of non-experts. Tell the stories of how these values led to small contributions by a diverse bunch of folks who decided to embrace their capacities.

If you’re looking for a good way to start to create your evaluation plan, I highly recommend a recently published report by the Community Strategies Group at the Aspen Institute titled, "What (and Who) Counts? Defining Rural Development Success." In a section of that report titled, “Needed at the Center: Community-Driven Measurement,” Ines Polonius, says that "community-centered measurement follows four principles: 

  • Locally Defined Progress - Measure your success based on locally-defined indicators. Don't compare your progress to that of other communities.
  • Equity Participation – When determining progress measures, "residents of diverse backgrounds – across race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, income, and ability – must be involved.”
  • Unique to Place and Context - Each rural community is different. Each one should determine what progress looks like.
  • Relativity - Measure percent increases or decreases from an established baseline.

All of the above principles require the type of connecting and appreciative inquiry that is at the core of ABCD.  Remember, the people who are experiencing the challenge being addressed are the same people who should be creating strategies to address local issues, as well as identifying the measures of success.