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Measuring community well-being – beyond numbers and donor agendas

16 May 2024

 

Samar Awaad, an International Development Consultant

In December 2023, at the #ShiftThePower Global Summit in Bogotá, I attended a session on “Measurement is Political.” After the session, I started to think of how measurement has been politicized. All my professional life, I have always had a problem with the MEAL system (Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability, and Learning), and how we measure people in numbers. Using numbers to fit into donor agendas, expectations, log frames, and all kinds of other insensitive measurements.

Throughout my career, I worked with several organizations, including the World Bank, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), and various community organizations. In the early years of my career, while I worked on impact evaluation of projects with the World Bank, I always felt like there was something odd about how we measured success but I did not have the language for it back then. I was also just at the beginning of my career. It was during my time with community organizations that I started to ask myself: how can I measure how people feel? How have they prospered? How do they become a good, productive community? How did the “weaving of relationships” between them become so strong? How do we measure all that?

Things get political when we attempt to measure success according to a MEAL system used by international organizations such USAID, DFID, GIZ, the World Bank, and many others if they are not interested in the quality of relationships in the communities they fund. Realizing now that measurement is indeed political, I find myself thinking; how can we measure community well-being? I think if we can develop indicators out of a community well-being approach, then there’s no reason why we can’t “evaluate” it. If we want people to be resilient, how can we build a vision of evaluation based on well-being? How can we measure resilience? How can we measure happiness? How can we measure some of these really extraordinary indicators? I suppose that needs an index – a collection of several indicators that collectively give us an impression of well-being, while being culturally sensitive.

 

This is an excerpt of a blog written by Samar Awaad, an International Development Consultant. To read the piece in its entirety, head to the #ShiftThePower Treehouse.

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