This article has been published in Enabling Education 11
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Title: Evaluating EENET
Author: Miles, S and Lewis, I
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2007

Evaluating EENET

EENET was evaluated in 2006. Evaluating such a diverse and global network is an almost impossible task! Nevertheless the process has successfully helped to raise awareness of EENET’s achievements and shortcomings. The evaluation took place at a time when EENET was struggling to survive financially. Many of the recommendations therefore relate to funding, structures and staffing. However, the report also represents a celebration of 10 years of networking. It contains both challenging and congratulatory comments from EENET’s users and supporters. Here Susie Miles and Ingrid Lewis present a brief summary of the evaluation.

EENET has sought to raise the profile of inclusive education work in the South and to push against the mainstream view of development. It insists on being a network with an open and equal relationship with the South. It facilitates but refuses to direct or dictate. It has worked, instead, to establish an exchange of experiences and to debate central concepts of inclusion. It raises awareness of concrete, on-the-ground initiatives happening in the South.

Evaluation activities

  • review of EENET’s annual reports, publications and other records and statistics
  • user questionnaire sent to all contacts in EENET’s database. Responses from Africa (66%), Asia (15%), Europe (13%), Australasia (3%), Middle East (2%), Caribbean (1%) South America (1%)
  • focus group discussions (three with EENET users in East Africa, one with EENET supporters in the UK)
  • interviews with EENET’s founders and other key supporters, staff, etc
  • assessment of readability and usability of EENET’s newsletters and website.

Evaluation of EENET users’ views focused on

  • What do inclusive education practitioners want from EENET? Do they get what they want? What more do they want? (service and expectations)
  • Are EENET’s aims and objectives clear to all users/supporters? (identity)
  • How do users/supporters contact EENET? (access)
  • Is there global support for EENET? (recognition)
  • Is there a demand for regionalisation?
  • What ideas are there for future organisational development?

EENET’s strengths

The evaluation showed that EENET has:

  • the ability to hold and communicate a global perspective on inclusive education and on concrete initiatives in the South
  • a reputation for responding in a friendly, open, inviting manner to every enquiry
  • a reputation for involving not just the ‘big players’, but the isolated teacher, parent or youth worker in a big bureaucracy or in a remote place
  • the rare skill to be both accessible in its language to its users and yet raise and deepen the debate on conceptual issues of inclusion
  • the ability to produce deceptively easy-to-read newsletters and other material that are, in fact, ‘cutting edge’ in terms of research, debate and contributions. This is achieved through skilful editing and being able to distil and present the core of the issue or practice being discussed
  • developed relationships with inclusive practitioners worldwide
  • a neutrality that comes from being independent and not affiliated with any government organisation, bigger NGO or other pressure group.

Summary of recommendations

Funding – EENET needs to focus on ensuring financial security; needs to diversify the approaches it takes to seeking funding from donors; and needs to review its position with regard to ‘selling services’ and’branding’.
Website – navigation through the site needs to be improved; updating of the site needs to be brought more under EENET’s control (less reliance on voluntary website support).
Readability – some of the materials EENET shares need to be made easier to read.
Identity – EENET needs to state more clearly/frequently what principles it stands for.
National/regional networks – EENET needs to maintain/increase its hands-on support to the development of such networks.
Accountability – the Steering Group needs to be revived and adapted to better oversee EENET’s vision and mission.
Expanding structures – EENET needs to develop a structure so it can expand to meet demand, yet maintain its highly valued ‘personal approach’.
Relationship with University of Manchester – EENET should keep monitoring the benefits and challenges of being located within the University and investigate alternatives for location in the future.
Staffing – there is a need to increase staff capacity (requiring increased funding).
Evaluation findings showed that EENET should provide

More analysis
“At present it lets the reader do their own reviewing and analysing, but it could itself offer that analysis. That too is a part of information dissemination and sharing. EENET’s current position is that people should take charge of their own learning and that it is not sure that it should be providing (potentially biased) analysis. [However] EENET could usefully provide more analysis of why the successes succeeded and the failures failed”.

More action research
“There is a huge gap between research and practice as well as between policy and practice, and EENET is best positioned to fill this gap in the South and the North”.

More face-to-face interaction
“People do not want more guidelines, manuals and handbooks; they have enough of those ‘how tos’. They want face-to-face interaction. And being in the field will also help EENET staff to act as a catalyst for action as well as extend their own understanding of the contexts with which they have links”.

The evaluation highlighted two very valuable things about EENET

The medium is the message
EENET has always believed that the best ways to promote inclusion is to demonstrate inclusion in action. One way EENET does this is by making information sharing and debates open to everyone, using communication styles that everyone can understand.
“… [it has an] ability to be accessible, to present complex ideas in simple ways, to engage in a debate about inclusion and what it means, to skillfully edit the [newsletter] material…[its accessibility comes from] the content it puts out, the style, who features in it and who contributes to it. … it encourages critical debate. [EENET shares] not just soppy stories but real, concrete examples that demonstrate the pioneering work done in the South. That is evidence of what can be done and is being done there.”

Core principles
“The strength of EENET lies in its commitment to consciously reflect and hold itself accountable to its core principles. This is evident in the way that EENET sets its priorities and in its responsiveness to those who are all too often overlooked by other NGOs as being too small or not significant enough. The ethos of mutual learning and the openness to learn from the South permeates its correspondence and comes through in the respondents’ feedback during the evaluation. As one focus group participant observed: ‘…[EENET’s] strength is also in its conscious reflection about and decision to continue to go upstream and not to become mainstream. It underestimates itself and how far ahead it really is of the debate on inclusion…’.”

Information in this article is drawn from the evaluation of EENET conducted by Duncan Little and Anise Waljee. Quotations come from the consultants and from users who contributed to the evaluation. The evaluation was funded by NFU – the Norwegian Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities – which was a donor to EENET until 2004. The full report of the evaluation and a summary report (pdf 50k) are available from EENET.

“[I] first check EENET [website] every time I go to a new country because it will give me quality, reliable information on what is concretely happening there.”

EENET user