Sunday, January 6, 2008

l'Objet du musée

Lors de mon séjour à San Cristobal au Mexique il m’a été donné de
visiter un petit village nommé Chamoula surtout connu pour son église
et son marché traditionnel. Elle abrite également un musée d’arts et
traditions populaires au détour d’une rue peu passante. Je ne résiste
pas à l’envie de vous le faire découvrir en quelques images

En effet ces photos interrogent un concept auquel je suis
très attaché et que je résumerais de la manière suivante: le bâtiment
musée est un abri et non un support pour les oeuvres qu’il expose. En
d’autres termes, il me semble judicieux, en muséographie, de créer un
dispositif dédié à la présentation d’un objet qui l’affranchisse du
bâti (sol, mur, plafonds). Vous comprendrez d’autant plus ma surprise
en découvrant les images qui suivent. Je vous les livre le sourire
aux lèvres...

Le musée: un abri.

Le musée: un lieu ouvert.

Question: mais quelle est la fonction exacte de cet objet en bambou?

Réponse évidente: étayer le mur

Traduction pour les habitués des visites de musée: "ne touchez pas
aux murs"

On peut s'interroger sur la vocation de ce bout de bois: arme
traditionnelle du gardien de la paix ou poteau dédié à la stabilité
du mur?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Hullaballoo about NPO evaluations

The debate continues on how to evaluate NPO's. Here's a comment I posted on the blog Tactical Philosophy.

As a former public school teacher and administrator and the current Director of an NPO, I have been involved with the challenge of evaluation for a very long time. And I couldn’t agree more with Kevin Jones when he wrote: “It’s (evaluation of NPO’s by fixed metrics) an epistemologically impoverished frame to impose a manufacturing metaphor” and “the first thing metrics have to prove is that their imposition does no harm. stop and think before you stick some crazy metric dashboard into an enterprise”.

Most people are aware of the numerous ways in which schools class children and the role that this sorting plays in the reproduction of society (Bowles and Gintis, Illich, etc). Many smart and dedicated people who are concerned with the problem have spent a lot of time and energy designing and experimenting with alternatives. Although there have been some noteworthy reforms (i.e. the introduction of state-wide standards such as the Vermont Curriculum Standards, the creation of new tools such as rubrics and the student portfolio and the National School Reform’s retraining of teachers as “critical friends”), the general consensus among educators is the following: there is no silver bullet for school reform.

There is no single metric which can be applied to a student, because there is no model person and no given path to any particular end. That is not to say that standardized tests are of no use, but rather that there is no single tool or collection of tools that can tell us everything that is important about an individual. Likewise, there is no standardized collection which tells us all we need to know about an NGO. Because NGO’s are as diverse as people and there a innumerable ways in which they can be effective.

Evaluation is best considered as a process, not a score, a process of give and take between the evaluator and the evaluated. The tools that comprise the process need to be multiple, varied, frequent and responsive in order to accommodate an organization’s difference and growth organizations and the ever-changing values of society.

Furthermore — and Kevin makes this point beautifully — it is critically important that the evaluating process not harm the evaluated. On the contrary, in my mind, a useful test is one that causes the test taker to learn something — a prompt towards self-evaluation and self-directed growth.

NGO’s, like schools, are in the people business, which requires a combination of clarity of mission, rigorous self-evaluation and reporting and constant revision and retelling of the story to garner support. The evaluation process needs to respect the organic nature of the work and support, rather than hinder, its development.

We shouldn’t let pressure (public or market) force us to provide a product that the sector doesn’t call for. Instead, we should try to teach the public how to conduct due diligence and encourage NPO’s to turn the public’s need to know into an opportunity for improved governance.

The Importance of Being Earnest - by Maureen

This week "givewell" went from the limelight on page 1 of the New York Living Business section to the doghouse, when it was uncovered that some of its staff, including its Director were caught "astroturfing"" -- a neologism for formal public relations campaigns in politics and advertising that seek to create the impression of being spontaneous, grassroots behavior". Two givewell staff members, one of them the Director, committed the double crime of using their personae to bashing their competitors. Subsequently the virtual swords were unsheathed and battled occurred in the blogosphere, most notably GiftWell and "GiftHub"

Unfortunately for humanity's score card, the debate turned to debacle as an angry mob moved into some spaces clamoring for the demise of Givewell, its CEO and any person who didn't share its point of view. The mob failed to see the irony of the their assumed role as guardians of democracy and representatives of the people. The polite dissenters found themselves faced with the following dilemma: speak up and be decimated or say nothing and hope the angry mob would disperse.

The incident provided fuel for the fire of NPO critics. Over the past year or so, in response to market and public pressure, a number of charity evaluation groups, such as givewell and charitynavigator, have come into existence. The public wants them to do the work of due diligence on their behalf. Some entrepreneurs from the for-profit sector have seized this opportunity to introduce skills gleaned from the for-profit world and a new service to the Non-profit world. Because of the givewell crisis, the response went from mixed to volatile -- leading to debates in the blogosphere.

As the virtual dust settles and the all too real hurt feelings calm after this GiftWell crisis, the question NPO's facing, including Heritance, is who should be the guardian of transparency?

I do not believe in a universal metric for evaluating NPO's as some people have been advocating. Even Google proposes to join the band wagon as this blog explains, "What to measure and why in philanthropy": In my mind, a universal metric smacks of "administrivia" and homogenization of the service sector. It could end up yet another accounting hurdle for struggling non-profits (who've already got a heap of accounting demands) and a further consolidation of power, exposure and money in a small number of chosen NPO's. How does Google or any other NPO evaluator propose to compare the apples, oranges, bananas and pomegranates?

I think that NPO's are as individual as people, and like people, need to be considered as a whole. There needs to be a more holistic approach to evaluating NPO's, one in which the NPO is encouraged to undertake self-evaluation and the public is encouraged and supported in its own due diligence. Likewise the NPO should hold up its end of the deal by setting and reporting goals, devising and reporting metrics, implementing and reporting evaluations. Reporting, reporting, reporting. The equally critical piece is the active solicitation and consideration of the public, to include a wide range of disinterested outsiders. Furthermore, every NPO ought to dedicate a page on their website to presenting the whole kit and kaboodle and this page would link to an on-line discussion forum, where the NPO and the public can talk about how things really work and don't work.

The healthy system of the future may be founded on a "talking cure" -- people in the NPO conducting self-evaluations and people from the outside reviewing their reports and offering feedback. Anything less than a dynamic system strikes me as merely a simulacrum.

At Heritance, in our own humble way, we try to live by this philosophy, as you can see by visiting our Resources Page: