I would like to share my experience with applying a “change maps” participatory technique within the framework of the evaluation of the economic empowerment project that worked with female farmers in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia. The project provided female farmers training on growing vegetables and preserving them and supported them to establish self-help groups and village associations to pool resources, e.g. for procurement of quality seeds and cattle. In some village the project also introduced instruments of the Gender Action Learning System (GALS). Evaluation was conducted at the end of the first phases of the project and was to inform preparation of the second phase.
“Change maps” is a participatory technique where small groups of project participants are offered blank maps (e.g. flipchart sheets) divided into several sections – one per each area where the project was or could be expected to create change – and asked to fill them based on their actual project experiences. In my case the potential change areas were identified in consultation with the project team. For the second phase the team wanted to align the project with the Women Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) so we agreed to focus the discussion about the changes induced by the project within WEAI domains. As a result our change maps included the following sectors:
• Do you see any changes in how decisions about agricultural production are made?
• Do you see any changes in access to and decision-making power over productive resources?
• Do you see any changes in control over use of income?
• Do you see any changes in leadership in the community?
• Do you see any changes in time use?
• Do you see any other changes?
During the meeting at villages we had up to 45 women involved in the project. Breaking them in small group was easy – each woman was a member of a small self-help group, and each self-help group developed a separate map. Then we gave women three beans each and asked to identify priority changes among those identified in their group. Then each group shared their perspective on key changes that emerged from the project with other groups. And in the end we asked women to assess the “merit” of the project for them on a scale of 10.
The lessons that we learned from application of this approach include:
• The “Change map” technique allowed to turn data collection into a semi-structured discussion among female farmers supported by the about what changed in their lives as a result of the project and its worth and merit. This helped me to distance evaluation from “control” visits the women were used to and enable a more open conversation about their project experiences.
• WEAI domains did not exactly match the way female farmers perceived their daily experiences, but they address this challenge by reinterpreting change sectors of the map. But in the future I would have used change sectors based on what the project was doing rather some external theoretical constructs.
• Filled change maps and discussions around them provided evaluation team with reach material for analysis. For example, based on the content of the maps I was able to identify more nuanced types of changes induced by the project and how common these changes were. One of interesting findings was that engaging women in productive agricultural practices led to women having no free time. This was seen as a positive change by female farmers and their families but came as a negative surprise for the project team.