A LinkedIn Op-Ed: Empowerment Evaluation

Time to Help Someone Else Help Themselves: Empowerment Evaluation

Too much of our lives are devoted to helping ourselves instead of helping others. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for helping myself. Like Hillel said: If I am not for myself: Who is for me? But I also believe in his insight and wisdom: If I am only for myself: What am I?

It might be a simple re-frame for those of us who need a rationale to reach out to others, like helping others helps us. At minimum, it makes people less dependent on us. Ideally, it makes them more self-determined and more capable of taking care of themselves.
Others may be defined abstractly, such as the impoverished and disenfranchised. It might be defined as: a program designed to help keep kids away from drugs, prevent teenagers from becoming pregnant, or helping to bridge the digital divide in communities of color. More concretely and personally, others might be a son, daughter, mother, father, spouse, friend, or colleague. The decision about how far you are willing to reach out to help someone else is your own, but we all know someone who needs and deserves help.
Reflecting on our behavior, when we were in trouble or simply planning a path for the future, we took a frank look at ourselves. We established a goal – where we wanted to go or end up and designed a path or building blocks to help us get there. A critical next step: we monitored our steps to determine if we were making progress toward those desired goals. If we were making progress – great – we kept moving forward. If not, however, we made mid-course corrections to right ourselves and place us on a path more likely to reach our desired destination, helping to make our dreams a reality.
This is the essence of what empowerment evaluation is all about. Empowerment evaluation forces us to focus on evidence (concerning our own performance and the performance of those we are helping learn how to help themselves). It involves cycles of reflection and action. It is not enough to simply assess performance. We need to learn from our self-reflection and then act on what we are learning.

These conceptual building blocks or tools helped each and every one of us. Personally we may have used these tools to emerge from an emotional pit of despair, a breakup, verbal or physical abuse, a death in the family, or just a very bad relationship. Professionally, we may have used these tools to escape from an abusive boss or a dead-end job. They may have helped us build new relationships, climb a career ladder, or pursue a new path and accomplish our professional objectives.
These same steps can be applied to helping others help themselves. Empowerment evaluation, however, is not a solitary endeavor. It is designed to create a community of learners. It promotes organizational learning. Empowerment evaluation reaches out to the community you recognize and live in on a daily basis – such as your workplace. It can help address dysfunctional working environments and build a creative, energized, and productive workforce.
Empowerment evaluation can also be used outside your social circle, including the community you can’t always see, the larger civic community all around you. Empowerment evaluation has been used in high tech corporations in Silicon Valley as well as squatter settlements in South Africa.

Empowerment evaluation has no formal boundaries or at least sees most boundaries as arbitrary social constructions. It is a way of helping yourself, while helping others. It makes you a part of a larger learning community.
If this socially responsible idea of how you might approach your work or your life sounds even remotely of interest in terms of your own intellectual and professional growth, take a few minutes out of your day to explore it a bit further. Look up empowerment evaluation on Wikipedia, view a few empowerment evaluation videos on YouTube, listen to a few radio interviews, read a blog about it, or pick up a recent empowerment evaluation book on the topic.

Then think about applying it to your own life, family, and work. You may unearth another part of yourself in the process of reaching out to help others help themselves.
As Hillel concluded in his maxim: If not now: When?
Dr. Fetterman is the president of Fetterman & Associates, an international evaluation firm. He has over 25 years of experience at Stanford University. He is also the past-president of the American Evaluation Association.


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