Participatory Methods in Mali – The Summer Intern Blog Series

Participation is often something we, as development professionals like to talk about as being a major element of the work we do. It shows that our insights are culturally informed, and our program participants are involved in defining the success or failure of the project. The participatory method the Pathways team decided on for this review is called Outcome Mapping, which was used to identify and measure ideal behavior changes for program participants.

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Above, the Mali team organize indicators of change, extracted from focus groups and interviews with Pathways participants

The research team, comprised of both CARE Mali Pathways staff and frontline agricultural extension workers, conducted approximately 36 interviews and focus groups with community members participating in Pathways activities. The conversations were filled with stories of change. Using Outcome Mapping methodology, the team pulled behavior changes communicated to them by program participants, as well as charting each tangible behavior change; classifying them as expect to see, like to see, or love to see changes. For example, the team decided that men taking on domestic chores such as fetching water was a change they expected while men beginning to cook or help care for children was a more significant change – a “like to see” change. Men sharing ownership of farmland with women was a change mentioned during only a couple of interviews – so infrequently, that we concluded it was not an easy change to make.  The team expressed that in terms of significance, it was a “love to see change” they hoped to see over the course of the project.

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A Mali team member draws an “Empowered Woman” as defined by Pathways Participants in Mali 

The Pathways research team in Mali also extrapolated that the affording of land to women was quite different from the affording of good, fertile land to women. They rounded out interpretations of gender-based violence and tradition, especially relative to marriage gifts – such as a whip – given to a husband to symbolize his power over the wife. Their insights into the rights and responsibilities of both husbands and wives within polygamous households further prepared us for the midterm review. In fact, it is the process of outcome mapping that guides the research and analysis process from beginning to end and anchors the research within the cultural context of Mali. Not only does this make the participatory method and research process more enjoyable, but it also makes it more relevant and rigorous.

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The Pathways Mali team 

As an intern with CARE USA and a blooming development professional, I was aware that my greatest challenge would be ensuring that the cultural and historical nuances in the data were captured and interpreted appropriately. Due to this, I was deeply invested in supporting the process of outcome mapping; in fact, much of my interest in the project stems from my desire to experience how international NGO’s use participatory methods to contribute to project learning. I can now testify to the essentiality of intentional participatory processes – such as CARE’s use of outcome mapping in the Pathways Midterm Review – which draws upon local expertise to help make sense of complex processes of change.

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Un gran merci á l’équipe de Nyéléni au Mali! – A big thank you to the Nyéléni team in Mali!



Written by Morgan Mercer
Edited by Melissa Jennings