Abstract: Evaluations have traditionally been used by funding bodies and others to justify the acquittal of funds at the conclusion of a project or to assess the project in terms of meeting a program’s objectives. An alternative view is of evaluations as participative processes. Through the participation, the direction of project activities can be influenced, good practices can be supported and promoted and the ongoing development of strategic policy can be informed. This is the approach being used by Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory to evaluate Domestic and Family Violence policies and strategies. The paper’s authors have been directly involved in the design and implementation of the evaluations, which are in various stages of progress. This paper explores the methodological basis for this approach, drawing on relevant evaluation literature. It briefly reviews the processes used for these projects, which include an evaluation of a ‘whole of government’ strategies and a suite of interventions designed to address family and domestic violence in several remote Indigenous contexts across the Northern Territory. One of the primary concerns of the whole of government evaluation was to consider how government communicates across agencies and how it engages with non-government organisations providing services to clients and vice versa. The focus of the suite of projects is to trial and develop practices that contribute to good outcomes for families and children at risk of family violence. The University’s involvement is both as an objective observer and an engaged participant in the processes. Traditionally the capacity to be both objective and engaged is seen as being impossible, undesirable or somehow unethical, a position this paper discusses and takes issue with. The paper will consider how one university has engaged with community stakeholders at a variety of levels: Commonwealth and Territory government agency representatives; non-government organisations providing services; representatives from communities and clients. The paper will conclude with an assessment of how effective the University has been: a) in engaging meaningfully with these stakeholder groups; b) in influencing the course of strategy and policy according the needs of the various stakeholder groups; and c) in managing the dual role of objective observer/researcher and engaged participant. The paper will provide insights for other research practitioners who may be considering participative approaches to evaluations. It will also be of particular use to organisations and communities that want to build evaluation into their program development.
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