C4D: Participatory

Inclusion; dialogue; partnership; human rights-based

Participation is a central principle for C4D, and therefore should be incorporated in the R,M&E of C4D. Participatory R,M&E is undertaken in partnership with children and adolescents, community members and other stakeholders, using processes that are culturally and socially appropriate, creative, and based on mutual trust, openness and dialogue.

Where do we start?

The question that should guide participatory approaches is: ‘Who should be involved in the R,M&E, why and how?’ This question should be reflected on right from the conceptualisation and planning stages of a C4D intervention. It should then be raised again when approaching each of the R,M&E stages and tasks.

Participation in C4D R,M&E is not just about using interesting methods and involving people/institutions in data collection and analysis. A high level of participation is also about sharing decision making responsibilities about the R,M&E processes, the outcomes, and utilisation.To achieve a high level of participation that is potentially transformative and empowering start by thinking about which stakeholders should have a role in decision making about the R,M&E. the following tasks can be useful:

Decisions about ways to engage stakeholders (i.e. in framing, data collection and analysis, reporting), and who should be engaged, can flow from there. For more on thinking through who might be involved, why, and how see Participatory Approaches, Methodological Briefs from the UNICEF Office of Research.

Incorporating and implementing participatory approaches in practice

Manage (and commission) an evaluation or evaluation system

The Understand and engage stakeholders task is an important foundation for a participatory approach.  

The Establish decision making processes task is an opportunity to formalise the involvement of  stakeholders in decision making about the R,M&E. Participation in decision making about R,M&E is an important part of a participatory approach.

One important decision that needs to be made is  who will conduct the R,M&E. In a participatory approach an external consultant may be needed as a facilitator. Stakeholders may have roles in framing, commissioning, data collection and/or analysis.

Participatory approaches may cost more (at least initially) and may take longer. This needs to be considered as part of the task: Determine and secure resourcesIt is important to balance the needs of a participatory approach with the need to remain realistic. 

Using participatory processes to identify, adapt and agree on ethical and quality standards for R,M&E ensures that the standards guide appropriate practices in keeping with local standards and expectations. 

Partners, community groups and others with roles in planning and implementing C4D should be involved in the task of Developing Planning Documents (Evaluation Plans and M&E Frameworks). This ensures that these documents respond to local needs, questions and contexts.

A participatory approach to the task of Reviewing R,M&E (meta evaluation) enables mutual learning and engagement among partners, relevant institutions and community groups. 

Developing R,M&E capacity is an important task, since participatory approaches will often depend on capacity building of stakeholders. All learning events, structures and processes should be inclusive of community groups and other implementers and planners of C4D.


The develop initial description task is a relatively quick and simple way to engage stakeholders in the R,M&E. This can be done even if a full participatory approach is not being followed.

Community groups and other stakeholders can be engaged in the process of developing a program theory/logic modelThis ensures that program theories are generated in ways that respect and include local ways of knowing the world. Other sources, such as existing program documents, previous research on similar types of initiatives, and observations of existing initiatives, can be incorporated as well. 

Involving different stakeholders in the task of identifying potential unintended results can draw on their unique knowledge and perspectives about an initiative, and reveal new information. 


In the taskIdentify primary intended users, it is useful to remember that in C4D users of R,M&E may include community members and leaders, who may take action as a result of findings.

When taking a participatory approach, the task of Deciding on the purpose of the R,M&E will usually mean thinking beyond donor/reporting uses. 

In a participatory approach, engaged stakeholders (especially the primary intended users) should contribute to specifying the key R,M&E questions. The R,M&E should respond to their questions.

The Determine what 'success' looks like task is about defining values and criteria. In a participatory approach these values and criteria should express what success means for and with the communities and other stakeholders. 

Describe (to answer descriptive questions)

Use measures, indicators or metrics: Indicators should reflect local ways of looking at and measuring the world. Ideally, those funding, managing, planning, implementing, collecting, and using the data should be involved in the selection of indicators. In C4D this includes community groups and partners. Participatory numbers is an option for generating quantitative measures in a participatory way.

Some methods to Collect and/or retrieve data are more engaging, less extractive, and enable mutual learning to a greater extent, than others. 

When taking a participatory approach, it is important to think about who owns the data, and therefore responsibility for data management. There may be additional challenges when dealing with data that has been generated through more engaging methods. 

A participatory approach to analysing data can reveal new findings and meanings, and support mutual learning. 

Visualising the data can help make the data analysis process and findings more accessible for stakeholders.  


There are participatory ways to approach the task of Synthesising Data from a Single Study/Evaluation so that the perspectives of communities and other stakeholders can be included. See methods such as a consensus conference, and qualitative weight and sum options. 

There are options for Synthesising data across studies (research, monitoring data, evaluations) that mean this task can be undertaken in a participatory way supporting mutual learning.  

A participatory approach to the task of Generalising Findings means thinking about how the knowledge of partners, communities and other stakeholders' can inform questions about generalisability and how successful approaches can be adapted. Participatory options for this task include Horizontal Evaluation or the Positive Deviance approach.    

Report and support use

Taking a participatory approach to the task of Identifying Reporting Requirements would mean actively engaging with key stakeholders in a reporting needs analysis, and/or the development of a communication plan.

When undertaking the task of Developing Reporting Media, the media products can be co-created by some or all of the people and groups involved in the R,M&E. This is particularly useful as a strategy to ensure that results are communicated in appropriate and accessible ways.  

A participatory approach to the task of Developing recommendations means meaningful engagement with partners, community groups and local institutions to ensure that the process supports community-driven development informed by local knowledge.

In a participatory approach, when undertaking the task of Supporting use, in addition to use by development agencies, it is important to include processes to support use among community members and leaders, and other stakeholders.

Challenges and strategies


Some may worry that participatory R,M&E will not have enough credibility or legitimacy. Some may criticise participatory approaches as lacking impartiality and independence, and believe that evaluations must be undertaken by an external consultant.  It is important to address these concerns. The task  Define ethical and quality R,M&E standards provides advice on this. There are ways to incorporate participatory approaches that fit with UNEG standards. 


There can be additional ethical challenges associated with participatory approaches, especially in relation to sensitive topics such as HIV/AIDS,  issues relating to children child marriage, violence against children).  Not all stakeholders must be involved in all aspects of R,M&E where this is not appropriate. In these cases consider the appropriateness of involving marginalised groups in:

The Participation Matrix tool can help to map the possible roles. 

Meaningful participation

Sometimes we end up with  ’tokenistic’ participation. This can happen where bureaucratic processes overtake engagement processes, or where some stakeholders are not able to participate openly because of fear or differences in power,  or issues of language (jargon) etc.  Ongoing critical reflection is the best defence against tokenistic participation.

Time and resources

It is common to feel that we don’t have enough time and resources for participatory R,M&E.  The task Determine and secure resources contains useful advice on managing limited time and resources and suggestions for low-budget options. Including stakeholders in Decision making (see Establish Decision making processes) is a useful first step, and from there stakeholders can decide which tasks require full participation. 

Working at scale

Meaningful participation with communities can be difficult when working at a large scale (e.g. in a context like India with 1.2 billion people). Focus on whose knowledge and participation matters. Consider sampling methods that might help to achieve representative or purposive groups for participation. Methods to collect data can be specifically chosen to deal with scale, such as participatory numbers or digital technologies (such as crowdsourcing).



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