Posted by: chrismaser | September 23, 2009



Giving People a Voice in Their Destiny


Okechukwu Ukaga and Chris Maser


A strong organizing context perceived from many points of view, such as a shared community vision, establishes the need to evaluate the results of implementing the community’s vision and determines what needs to be evaluated and how. For a community to become sustainable, it must be able to understand its life-support systems and how they influence and are influenced by a variety of factors, which makes evaluation imperative.

Although the term “evaluation” is variously used, it’s meaning here is simply to assess, monitor, grade, or judge the intended outcomes and/or unintended effects of specific activities on a particular system. Evaluation, in this sense, includes a formal process of observing and interpreting the overall results of such human activities as urban development, logging, and farming in relation to the biophysical and social variables associated with those activities (for example, increases in air pollution with urban growth and increases in soil erosion with logging and farming).

Like a microscope or a telescope, evaluation acts as a lens through which we humans detect events and trends nor normally within the range of our perception. For example, only long-term, global-scale evaluation can determine the consequences of the “greenhouse effect” on the Earth’s atmosphere (first proposed as a theory in 1894 by a Swedish scientist studying the effects of burning fossil fuels), which in turn affects the quality of human life and perhaps even human survival. Here a caution from professor John Gray, of the London School of Economics, is advisable:  “If we redesign nature to fit human whishes, we risk making in [Nature] a mirror of our limitations.”

. . .

Social-environmental sustainability is only as vibrant and successful as the psychological maturity of those involved in the process will allow. We say this because our experience has been that those people in a community who tend toward psychological maturity speak for the children (present and future), whereas those who toward psychological immaturity speak only for themselves. With the former, sustainability is possible. With the latter, it is not—because the children have no voice.

According to American poet John Ashbery, “tomorrow is easy, but today is uncharted.” “This observation,” says professor John Gray, “points out our real human weakness, which is not our incurable ignorance of the future, but rather our failure to understand the present, and it is the present in terms of the future that evaluation addresses.”


“I congratulate Drs. Ukaga and Maser for their recent work, Evaluating Sustainable Development. Indeed, there is no topic more critical and timely to evaluation than that of allowing individuals to have a ‘voice in their destiny.’ Ukaga and Maser successfully link two essential elements:  participatory evaluation and sustainable development. This book communicates the important ingredients of the evaluation process and will be a helpful reference for practitioners, a useful guide for students and also provide valuable insights for administrators and faculty.”—Richard A Krueger, Professor and Evaluation Leader, University of Minnesota.

“For agriculture to succeed, not only must the agricultural enterprise succeed, but the community that the farmer lives in must also succeed. In other words, not only must the farm be sustainable, but the community and its infrastructure, too. This book helps you determine community values and the legacy you want to leave your children. This is a step-by-step way of evaluating sustainable development for your community and how to make it happen.”—Small Farm Today

“Ukaga and Maser have constructed a book that helps organizations understand and implement power-filled evaluations.

“This book helps us formulate project objectives that are specific, measurable, and time bound and to formulate evaluation questions that are relevant to our objectives.

“True to the ideals and integration of sustainable development, this work encourages participation by the masses and focuses on economic, environmental, and community quality in a simultaneous and interlocking manner. The authors acknowledge the inherent complexity of sustainability and offer methods that reduce the intimidation of a complex working environment.

“The authors apply the concepts and practice of evaluation to all temporal stages of program management. Their evaluation processes ask us whether we should start a project, how it’s working, whether we should change its course, and whether it is accomplishing its goals and objectives. They advocate ferreting out current values and conditions as a precursor to evaluation. This provides a baseline or starting point; so people can set goals for getting to an even better place, and effectively measure their progress toward that future place. In their model, a baseline description of a community, culture and organization is preparatory step toward crafting an evaluation of community stability and sustainability.

“They show us how to take our people beyond the usual drudgery and isolation of evaluation process, using the process to facilitate decisions, demonstrate accountability, enhance relationships and support planning. They make it critical for stakeholders to play active roles in evaluation of sustainable development so the challenges, opportunities, and circumstances of their world are represented therein. This form of participatory evaluation is a precursor to participatory decision-making. The involvement of advocates in evaluation of their own programs makes them the best judges of its success.

“This book has broad application. Ukaga and Maser have grounded their recommendations in their respective practices—from Minnesota to Nigeria. It offers evaluation methods for sustainability on both global and local scales; for those addressing immediate problems of survival and development in non-industrialized countries, and for those involved in large organizations and industrialized nations.”—Dr. Steven B. Daley-Laursen, Dean, College of Natural Resources, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID.

Evaluating Sustainable Development:  Giving People a Voice in Their Destiny. 2004. Stylus Publishing, LLC, Sterling, VA. 192 pp.

If you want more information about this book or want to purchase it, visit “BOOKS” on my website.

If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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