What is Civic Evaluation?
Definition of Civic Evaluation
Civic Evaluation can be defined as an action-research performed by citizens, through the use of established and verifiable methods, to issue reasoned judgements on realities that are significant for the protection of rights and the quality of life.
Therefore, citizens themselves, organized and provided with the appropriate evaluation tools and techniques, produce important information on fields that are deemed significant, such as services provided by public or private organizations (i.e. health, transportation, school, telecommunication, utilities, financial services, etc.) or public policies applied in given fields (such as welfare, environment, justice) at a national or local level.
Civic evaluation allows, in this way, to monitor and verify, for example, compliance with certain quantity- quality standards provided by contractual undertakings or Service Charters, the compliance of given policies to the expectations of citizens or, more, the compliance with specific regulatory obligations, sometimes widely ignored.
Civic evaluation is, therefore, a mainly “technical” activity. Citizens are not limited to the expression of subjective opinions, but they are able to issue judgements, based on data and information collected and processed according to specific methods and, where possible, judgements that are valid and meticulous from a scientific point of view. This technical dimension makes civic evaluation a process similar to other types of social evaluation and research.
The elements which make civic evaluation different from other types of evaluation are:
- in the first place, the “point of view”, from which reality is observed, which identifies, formalizes and makes measurable typical aspects of the citizen's experience, which cannot be interpreted from other observation perspectives;
- second, the fact that such activity is performed directly and autonomously by organized citizens, playing an active role in society in order to improve institutions and policy making.
Within the civic evaluation processes, citizens are at the same time:
- promoters of the process, that is subjects expressing the need to examine in depth and issue a judgement on a given problem;
- enforcers of the survey, because the data and the information regarding the problem are gathered and processed directly by them;
- users of the knowledge produced, because they have a direct interest in producing a change in the reality analyzed.
It is, therefore, not possible to divide the strictly "technical" activity of producing information, from the more properly “political” activity of exploiting it in order to influence society in a concrete way.
Civic evaluation integrates these two dimensions, because it:
- identifies and makes measurable the significant aspects from the citizen’s point of view;
- defines a set of technical tools for data collection and for information processing;
- allows citizens to assert their interpretation during policy making processes.
Summarizing, in civic evaluation processes, the evaluation action necessarily coexists with the mobilisation of the people concerned with a specific issue, the sharing of information and assessment of the problem and the involvement in finding and implementing solutions. The evaluating citizen is always - and in any case - an active citizen who is interested in changing society.
Civic Evaluation as expression of Active Citizenship
For the above mentioned reasons, there is no doubt that civic evaluation can be considered as a form of expression of active citizenship.
We mean, by “Active Citizenship”, the ability of citizens to organise themselves autonomously, to mobilize human, technical and financial resources, and to act within public policies, through different methods and strategies, in order to protect rights and attend to the greater good.
This is a wider concept of citizenship than the traditional one, which lists an assembly of rights and duties which asserts that an individual belongs to a national identity.
This new concept lays stress on exercising powers and on citizen responsibility in tackling the problems of public life that interest him as her directly. In other words, organized citizens offer themselves as political players. Their presence is related to governance in society and to the general interest, not only with the resolution of single issues, or with the mere defense of private interests.
Civic organizations, therefore, make citizens the primary players in the defense of their own rights and in the care of the common good, in a role that is not alternative but complementary to the role of democratic institutions.
For this objective, the ability to make citizens main players of the policy making process and to enhance their level of empowerment in the public arena becomes crucial. One of the most efficient strategies consists in enhancing the citizen’s level of specialization and knowledge of the single issues, through better analysis and information production skills. This is what Aaron Wildavsky defines as “analyst citizen”.
A citizen becomes an analyst when he/she is able to produce autonomously a knowledge of social phenomena or problems, through which he/she can direct his/her own actions within the system of relationships between the political actors and public policy.
According to the active citizenship approach, therefore, civic evaluation, as described above, is a vital empowerment tool offered to citizens and civic organizations. The autonomous production of information can allow the reduction of subordination, to or dependency on others or, in positive terms, to enhance the power of citizens and their ability to influence.
The knowledge coming from civic evaluation processes can produce actions of information, listening and assistance to citizens, interaction with institutions, participation in public policies or, in a simpler way, complaints, claims or legal action.
In any case, such knowledge is a potential source of original power, not derived from other authorities: the power to produce and spread information and judgements based on reality, the power to survey and verify the correct operation of institutions, the power to directly intervene to solve problems or to meet needs coming from citizens (for example through co-production of public policies or services).
Acting on the system of relationships, citizens can produce a social change and start collective learning processes. The result of such processes depends, obviously, on the relationship system itself and on its context.
This is not the right place to deepen the examination of the links between evaluation, organizational learning or social change. In any case, it cannot be doubted that civic evaluation, among the several forms that can be taken by policy evaluation, is specially linked to learning processes. The will to act is intrinsically present in the evaluation action itself.
Civic Evaluation and Participatory Evaluation
The last thought leads us to a further consideration regarding the distinction between Civic Evaluation and Participatory Evaluation.
A few years ago, the onset of participatory approaches in evaluation practice started a wide debate, which is still very active.
According to many authors, drawing on several concrete experiences, the involvement of stakeholders in evaluation processes can bring many benefits. First, it widens the perspective used to tackle a specific issue and improves the quality and depth of the issues on which the evaluation process is founded. Second, it makes the process clearer and more shared, encouraging comparison, communication and collaboration between subjects with different interests. Lastly, it helps the evaluation process itself and makes each stakeholder more conscious and capable in the evaluation.
Summarizing, a participative approach is considered an element which can make the findings more useful, significant and believable.
The civic approach to evaluation is partially different from the participative, although very close to it. Usually, participative methods develop the listening of the different stakeholders with sophisticated techniques, but they do not recognize them as subjects able to produce on their own structured evaluations. The point of view of citizens, in particular, is considered a survey object, one of the several points of view which may be taken in account while developing the different evaluation steps.
In civic evaluation, the citizen ceases to be a mere survey object and becomes the evaluating subject which analyses reality using his own tools, collects data, analyses documents, interviews managers, service directors, etc.
In this process, citizens seek confrontation and dialogue with institutions and other actors, possibly in a partnership and collaboration relationship, but they consider evaluation activity an autonomous and independent power. The main goal is, therefore, to make citizens more capable and efficient in their participation in public life and in their relationship with the institutions. It becomes possible, through the findings of the evaluation, to create pressure to share and to implement the improvement programs with the institution itself.
In conclusion, with respect to participatory evaluation, civic evaluation appears to grant citizens greater autonomy and to provide them with better possibilities of interaction at the same level with the institutions involved. At the same time, the civic evaluation process does not aim at guaranteeing that every point of view is expressed, as is in the participative evaluation processes, even if it remains open to other stakeholders and requires confrontation with external interlocutors.
This said, in the real world, the distinction between civic evaluation and participatory evaluation can be less clear and appear a pure academic exercise. The need positively and actively to involve citizens in the definition, implementation and evaluation of the public policies is still a very open and topical issue.
On the other hand, forms of concrete citizen participation can also vary in relation to the political context and the evolution of time. In Italy, notwithstanding some renovation processes started during the Nineties, there is still a weakness in the institutional processes of evaluation of the policies and performance of public administrations. Formal evaluation is still scarcely practiced, in the same way that inclusive and participatory decision-making processes are still limited to few local experiences. This entails that civic evaluation initiatives themselves, in some cases, flank evaluation processes performed by the institutions, but, in other cases, fill a blank, express a need for knowledge and play an almost controlling role over the actions of institutions themselves.
In this sense, indeed, civic evaluation in some way anticipates and stimulates the birth of forms of participatory evaluation and, more generally, better attention to the involvement of citizens in governance processes.
The experience of Cittadinanzattiva in Civic Evaluation in Italy
During the last ten years, Cittadinanzattiva has been the first organization that promoted and developed projects and methods of civic evaluation in different fields of activity of the Italian Public Administration.
In the healthcare field, in particular, through the Civic Audit method, during the 2001-2010 period, mixed teams of citizens and operators performed a full cycle of evaluation in more than 150 local and hospital health public authorities, gaining significant cultural and organizational returns.
The examination of the Civic Audit method will be deepened in the next chapter. Two evaluation initiatives are briefly shown herein: they were performed, respectively, with regard to school buildings and urban quality.
The “Impararesicuri” (Learn safely) Campaign
Starting from 2002, Cittadinanzattiva promoted a national campaign for the collection of up-to-date data regarding the condition of the Italian school building stock, through the monitoring of a significant number of buildings nationwide (during the first year the campaign covered 70 schools and gradually spread throughout the nation. In 2004 200 building s were monitored, 382 in 2005, 271 in 2006, 184 in 2007, 132 in 2008 and 82 in 2009 covering nearly all the Italian regions).
To this end, dedicated sampling tools were designed and revised. The evaluation teams are formed by volunteers coming from Cittadinanzattiva, but also by teachers, parents, groups of students, with the addition, in some cases, of school managers and directors of the School Prevention and Protection Service.
The teams, appropriately trained in the use of the tools, perform the monitoring within the schools which declared themselves ready to perform the survey. All the collected data are then sent to the national headquarters of Cittadinanzattiva, which proceeds with the preparation of a national Report and with the dissemination of the findings through a public presentation at a national level and a number of meetings in the different cities participating in the survey (the latest national report, presented on September 16th 2010, is available at http://www.cittadinanzattiva.it/imparare-sicuri/rapporto-imparare-sicuri-viii.html).
The evaluation structure of “Impararesicuri” decomposes safety in 4 components, 17 factors and 315 indicators. It is possible to couple each school building with a synthesis score, which shows the overall safety level.
The monitoring is performed by a pair of evaluators which have at their disposal two tools:
- the “structural observation grid” which is used to record the information collected during the inspection through direct observation or through simple questions to the personnel present (the topics are related to common paths, educational services, rooms, systems, general services and toilets, condition of the building, construction sites).
- the questionnaire for the Head of the Prevention and Protection Services aims at three objectives: to gather information on safety not detectable by direct observation, to gather useful elements to learn which knowledge persons in authority use to tackle safety issues; to gather general information on the monitored school.