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IMA celebrates 30 years with Prof. Robert Chambers

This evening, during our Monitoring and Evaluation for Results course, Professor Robert Chambers had thirty of us on our hands and knees testing a participatory technique for gathering data.  We, guests from local NGOs (Sightsavers,  HIV/AIDS Alliance, Health Partners International and VSO) and course participants,  were his guinea pigs - he makes a point of using a different  technique each time he works with a group.  Robert soon had us converted to his participatory style of gathering data and we felt for ourselves how it really was ‘democracy of the ground'.  In our small groups of four, on our hands and knees everyone was equal, no one dominated the rest and it was a fast and effective way to reach a consensus.  The seeds we had to place on our grids were a very visual way of recording our consensus decisions and they were easy to move around if we wanted to change our minds.  Robert peppered his  talk with anecdotes such as...

... the time when he was researching standards of living in India and came across an international glossary that recorded over 50 words which mean defecation.  He talked of Rwanda who have an amazing 15,000 participatory cloth maps recording wealth categories and the Rwandan Ministry of Health now uses this data to aggregate on a national scale.  A social movement in Bangladesh had consultants start out using 5 or 6 indicators and when the villages were asked what to use they came up with 134 indicators and the villagers loved it (see www.sida.se Measuring Empowerment: Ask Them).  This is a remarkable example of generating statistics about social change from many groups.  Robert doesn't want leaders to underestimate what ‘the lowers' can do, especially children -  but that is another subject altogether!  His enthusiasm for participatory techniques was infectious and we reluctantly let him go when we realised at 7.30pm it was getting late!  Judging from the response we had after the event we know Robert Chambers has more converts for using participatory techniques.   If you are hungry to learn more Robert recommends reading Participatory Impact Assessment by Feinstein International Center, A Guide for Practictioners. Participants received free copies of Who Counts? The Power of Participatory Statistics, in which Prof. Chambers wrote a foreward. Several of Prof. Chambers’ publications were also on display after the session and he had a lovely time autographing some copies of his books for participants.

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