Participatory approaches ensure that parent leaders and PLI staff are engaged in:
- defining the outcomes that matter to them, such as advancing racial justice;
- posing and refining evaluation questions;
- structuring evaluations to support program improvement and strategic decision-making;
- making decisions about what data to collect and in what form; and
- making sense of data.
We expect that participatory evaluation of PLIs will facilitate the development and testing of new ways to measure and document processes and outcomes that reflect the experiences and needs of parent leaders and PLI staff. In particular, PLIs desire more ways to capture community-level changes that traditional methods, like surveys, cannot capture. In our review of existing methods and measures, we noted particular gaps in evaluation of impacts on public officials, collective action, and civic climate. Our Methods page offers suggestions for methods that are participatory and capture these “outer layers” of the Theory of Change.
While unique and newer methods are indeed needed, PLIs can use and adapt existing resources such as published evaluations, scholarly literature on parent leadership, and research and evaluations from other fields such as psychology, sociology, community organizing, and civic engagement. Using existing measures saves the time and expense of drafting, piloting, and revising scales, and can enhance confidence that the scales measure what they intend to measure (validity) and that they work consistently (reliability). However, existing measures must be chosen with care. Some may have been developed and tested with communities very different from those where PLIs work or may come from research traditions that don’t aim to advance values central to PLIs, such as racial justice and empowerment.