The Project: Creating Spaces
Creating Spaces to Take Action on Violence Against Women and Girls (2016-2021) seeks to reduce violence against women and girls and the prevalence of child, early and forced marriage in six countries: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines.
While many countries have established policies and programs to end violence, deeply entrenched values, attitudes and practices slow our collective progress towards violence-free communities. Domestic violence, marital rape, trafficking for sexual exploitation and/or forced labour, and child, early and forced marriage threaten the health and freedom of women and girls, and are violations of their human rights.
Oxfam works with local organizations in all six project countries to reach people of all genders, political leaders, law enforcement personnel and institutions. We aim to prevent violence by changing local norms and laws, respond to violence by providing women and girl survivors with support, and improve understanding of violence by strengthening collective efforts and learning. With Creating Spaces, we are creating spaces for support, for justice and for change.
This project takes place in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines:
Creating Spaces completed a mid-term learning review across all six project countries in 2018 and 2019. Mid-term learning reviews offer insights into how a project is progressing and give the project team an opportunity to course correct if things are off-track, or question the initial assumptions in the project’s theory of changeThis term means A Theory of Change is a comprehensive description of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. It focuses on mapping the “missing middle” between what a program or project does (activities) and how these lead to desired long-term goals (results). For more information, refer to the content on the Center for Theory of Change website. . The core purpose of this mid-term review was to guide us in project planning, build knowledge on key areas, like social norm change, and flag whether or not we would need to adapt the project’s theory of change. The evaluation was designed and implemented with and by partners and the people we work with, centering the perspectives of women and girls and their lived experiences.
Applying the foundations of feminist MEAL to a mid-term learning review is challenging in and of itself, but the Creating Spaces project team also faced the added complexity of how to apply feminist MEAL approaches across six different country contexts and come out of the process with a cohesive understanding of the project’s progress. While all country teams used the feminist MEAL foundations in the mid-term learning review, they ended up using the method that worked best for each specific country.
Oxfam worked with partner staff and community members from the six country teams to design the process for the Creating Spaces mid-term learning review.
The first two steps of the review happened simultaneously. First, Oxfam country teams facilitated a process to help partner staff identify key country-specific questions that would help them gather evidence on project results to date, learn about the process/methods being used by their peers and demonstrate what success would look like from their own perspective. Second, an external evaluator identified key questions that related to the project as a whole.
The third step, validation, happened in all six project countries after parts one and two were complete. Oxfam and its partner staff co-led workshops with community members, including women, female youth, and adolescent group members/leaders of all genders, to ensure the data that was collected made sense to the communities.
Four Creating Spaces countries (Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia) chose to use peer-to-peer data collection This term means Peer-to-Peer (P2P) data collection can take place in research or evaluation. Relevant work may also use the terms “peer researchers”, “co-researchers”, “community researchers” or “peer interviewees”. Using P2P methodology is related to a shift to using more participatory approaches in MEAL work across the international development sector. This type of data collection benefits from shared lived experience but also requires that the project team balances the insider-outsider status of the participants. For more information, refer to this article from the journal Qualitative Social Work. for their part of the mid-term learning review. To prepare, partner staff were trained in how to conduct focus group discussionsThis term means Focus Group Discussions (FGD) gather people to discuss a specific topic of interest. An FGD facilitator will allow participants to agree or disagree with each other so that the discussion can provide insight on how the group thinks about an issue. FGDs can therefore be used to explore the deeper meaning behind survey findings, gain perspective from a range of views and better understand local context and terminology. For more information, refer to this discussion on the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) website. and key informant interviewsThis term means Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) are qualitative, in-depth interviews with people who have first-hand knowledge about a topic of interest, including what is going on in the target communities of a particular project. KIIs are generally loosely structured, probe for information from guiding questions, and can resemble a conversation. For more information, refer to this discussion on the Better Evaluation website. . Partner staff then traveled from their own district to another within the project country to learn from their peers about how they implemented the project and to better understand project results to date.
The two remaining Creating Spaces countries took different approaches because it made the most sense in their specific contexts. The Philippines team used the MEAL approach of outcome harvestingThis term means Outcome Harvesting is an approach that involves collecting (“harvesting”) evidence of what has changed (“outcomes”) and, then, working backwards to determine whether and how an intervention has contributed to these changes. Outcome Harvesting has proven to be especially useful in complex situations when it is not possible to define concretely what an intervention aims to achieve, or even, what specific actions will be taken over a multi-year period. For more information, refer to this discussion on the Better Evaluation website. . Because there was only one partner in Pakistan, peer-to-peer data collection wasn’t possible there, so they instead hired an external consultant to conduct a qualitative studyThis term means Qualitative research and evaluation can include many different methods, which draw on data collection techniques such as interviews and observations. Qualitative inquiry seeks to build an understanding of attitudes, norms and behaviors, is often focused on creating meaning and is descriptive. The resulting data is generally non-numerical. For more information, refer to McGill University’s description of qualitative versus quantitative research. , primarily using focus group discussions and key informant interviews.
Sipra Devi says she’s deeply bothered by the tendency in Chhattisgarh not to question patriarchal norms. Helping women to challenge their oppressive circumstances is her passion and her life’s work, and she’s been part of Creating Spaces since the project was first being designed back in 2015.
In India, Creating Spaces is being rolled out in marginalized Dalit and Adivasi communities where women do not have control over money, property, food, their labour, mobility or education. Extramarital relationships are normalized for men, and women often face domestic or sexual violence at the hands of their husbands or other men in the community.
“I talk to women in my area regularly,” says Sipra. “They share with me about the physical and sexual violence they have been facing. It gives me pain.”
Historically, Dalit and Adivasi women have not questioned these realities. But taking part in Creating Spaces gave them an opportunity to reflect on their power and their right to challenge the oppression they had been living with all their lives.
Oppression is something that Sipra is all too familiar with herself. Being a woman from a lower caste has made it difficult for Sipra to access opportunities – and when she started her work on women’s rights, she faced further backlash from friends and her husband’s family.
The Creating Spaces project in particular is very close to Sipra’s heart because it has such a comprehensive approach to gender equality – the project includes all genders, ages and levels of community leadership because everyone in the community has a role in ending violence against women and girls.
“The approach of engaging with caste society leaders, village leaders, youth and adolescents has been very key in bringing some change as a result of intervention in the project,” says Sipra.
At the outset of the project, youth faced criticism and ostracization from the community when they tried to share Creating Spaces messages that women and girls should be respected and equal, and that men should play a part in taking care of the home and the children. But, as the men who were involved in Creating Spaces started to take on this care work, their families gradually began to support them.
For Sipra, the most rewarding parts of the project so far have been working with adolescent boys and youth to address caste issues in their villages, working with adolescent girls to teach them about claiming their rights within the family, and working with caste leaders to support them in including women in their structures. Women in Chhattisgarh now have a stronger sense of their power and the community has begun to speak up against violence and oppression. Seeing this kind of change happen gives Sipra hope and courage to go even further in her work.
When it came to the monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning (MEAL) process for Creating Spaces, Sipra participated in both the baseline study and the mid-term evaluation. She facilitated two separate focus group discussions, one with adolescent boys and one with adolescent girls during the baseline study, and she was part of the peer-to-peer learning team during the mid-term learning review.
“It gave me the opportunity to learn different strategies/tools adopted by different partners,” says Sipra, reflecting on her learning during the mid-term learning review.
Sipra also appreciated being able to visit and learn from Creating Spaces programming in other communities. Doing so helped her to advance related programming in Chhattisgarh.
For example, in Kalahandi (Odisha District), the Gond tribe had very rigid gender norms and leadership roles, which were previously open to men only, and seeing change take root there was quite moving for Sipra. Similarly, she enjoyed learning about how open women leaders had become in discussing their sexual relationships, which was thanks to Creating Spaces. This type of discussion was previously taboo.
“It was also important for me to see the adolescent girls in Kalahandi resist public violence very confidently,” says Sipra.
In Jharkhand District, the Creating Spaces team had prepared a song in a local language to generate community awareness about different sections of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, which Sipra was inspired to hear.
Sipra would like to participate in similar peer-to-peer processes in the future in order to help her better understand the Creating Spaces activities and outcomes in different districts.
While some important shifts have already taken place through her work with Creating Spaces, Sipra still has many dreams for the women and girls in her community of Chhattisgarh.
“I envision a day when there are no restrictions on women’s mobility, on food or dress,” says Sipra. “Girls would express their choice for marriage, and their choice would be respected. Parents and families would not give dowries to their daughters in marriage. Rather, they would give an equal share of property to the daughter.”
She has high hopes that the Creating Spaces project and others will help her to get there.
Learn more about how we did it, and explore how our MEAL approaches and methodologies impacted the outcome.
Our Methods Explained
Peer-to-peer data collectionThis term means Peer-to-Peer (P2P) data collection can take place in research or evaluation. Relevant work may also use the terms “peer researchers”, “co-researchers”, “community researchers” or “peer interviewees”. Using P2P methodology is related to a shift to using more participatory approaches in MEAL work across the international development sector. This type of data collection benefits from shared lived experience but also requires that the project team balances the insider-outsider status of the participants. For more information, refer to this article from the journal Qualitative Social Work. was used in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Nepal as a form of participatory evaluation in which project partners and community stakeholders determine what questions are asked and take the lead in the collection of data in the evaluation process. In feminist MEAL, we aim to emphasize this kind of central participation at all stages of the evaluation process, including design, data collection, analysis and validation. A participatory approach can be applied to both quantitative and qualitative data.
It is important to consider why and how stakeholders will be involved, and who these stakeholders will be before a feminist MEAL process begins so that roles are clear. Oxfam had to consider the pre-existing skill sets of the partner staff and community members who would participate in the peer-to-peer approach. An effective peer-to-peer approach should include training and mentoring.
Some of the advantages of doing participatory evaluations mean that projects are more likely to:
- Identify locally-relevant evaluation questions
- Improve the accuracy and relevance of reports
- Establish and explain how results are specific to that project’s context
- Improve program performance
- Empower participants
- Train and mentor participants for this project and beyond
- Develop leaders and build teams
- Sustain organizational learning and growth
Learn more by reading the full Creating Spaces mid-term learning review report, as well as the report Uprooting our Beliefs, which is a summary and analysis of the findings from the feminist research conducted by our partners across the project countries. The Creating Spaces Impact Page also includes country-specific research reports and infographics.
For more information on participatory evaluation – including examples and resources – you can visit the Better Evaluation website. It may also be useful to review this UNICEF Methodological Brief on Participatory Approaches by Irene Gujit.
Separating Evaluation Elements:
The Creating Spaces mid-term learning review was a complex endeavour, including both qualitative and quantitative research, as well as six country-level reports and one cross-country report. All of these elements needed to be delivered on time for the evaluation process to work. For example, the external evaluator relied on the successful completion of each country-level participatory exercise before being able to complete her work. Further, the cross-country validation process relied on all six countries completing their exercises at the same time, which wasn’t always possible. This set up a type of domino effect where missed deadlines impacted not only that specific country but the entire project. In future evaluations of multi-country projects, Oxfam Canada advises separating evaluation elements so that different pieces do not rely on each other. In the case of the Creating Spaces mid-term learning review, this would have meant that Step 1 (participatory evaluation) and Step 2 (external evaluation) would have occurred as two distinct steps.
Allocating Time and Resources for Data Analysis and Sense-Making:
As part of their participation in the peer-to-peer element of the Creating Spaces mid-term learning review, partner staff received training in data collection – particularly in how to conduct focus group discussionsThis term means Focus Group Discussions (FGD) gather people to discuss a specific topic of interest. An FGD facilitator will allow participants to agree or disagree with each other so that the discussion can provide insight on how the group thinks about an issue. FGDs can therefore be used to explore the deeper meaning behind survey findings, gain perspective from a range of views and better understand local context and terminology. For more information, refer to this discussion on the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) website. and key informant interviewsThis term means Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) are qualitative, in-depth interviews with people who have first-hand knowledge about a topic of interest, including what is going on in the target communities of a particular project. KIIs are generally loosely structured, probe for information from guiding questions, and can resemble a conversation. For more information, refer to this discussion on the Better Evaluation website. . Partner staff reported feeling comfortable and supported in doing data collection at the community level, but they did not feel as comfortable analyzing data, which was a training issue. This led to delays in completing the data analysis in some countries because Oxfam had not sufficiently trained partners in data analysis like we did in data collection. In future peer-to-peer exercises, Oxfam Canada advises ensuring that partners receive data analysis training rather than just data collection training. Overall, teams should consider what will be done with the data after it is collected.
Feminist MEAL Foundations
The process involved in developing the Creating Spaces mid-term learning review integrated all of Oxfam Canada’s feminist MEAL foundationsThis term means Feminist MEAL: Is an approach rather than a process, is an integral part of transformative change, shifts power to partners and participants, highlights the evaluator as a facilitator, values collective, context-driven knowledge generation, provides a learning orientation to evaluations, is rooted in safe programming, guided by ‘do no harm.’ Read More. to varying degrees.
In particular, the following foundations were prominent in this work:
Feminist MEAL means shifting ownership of processes to program partners and participants. In the Creating Spaces mid-term learning review, partners and participants collected all of the data in the peer-to-peer element of the evaluation. In some countries, they also led on the first steps of the data analysis. Finally, partners played a key role in sharing and getting feedback on the evaluation and circulating the knowledge in communities and as part of advocacy work.
While the Creating Spaces mid-term learning review engaged an external consultant, as well as Oxfam Canada and Oxfam staff in project countries, their roles were limited to that of facilitators, who provided technical support and posed questions to partner staff, who led the overall process.
Using a peer-to-peer approach in the Creating Spaces mid-term learning review meant that the knowledge that was created was relevant to the partners and participants and their contexts because they brought their own experiences to the work. Their varying perspectives brought a rich, nuanced understanding to the evaluation process.
Learn More about Feminist MEAL Foundations
Read about our Feminist MEAL Foundations in more depth in Oxfam Canada’s Guidance Note on Feminist MEAL.