Can Bhutanese accept evaluation culture?
Evaluation is not new to any culture, especially not to Bhutanese culture. The practice of trusting a person with knowledge and accountability existed in our communities even before the modern governance system. Before the modern education system, the basis of leadership was integrity, empathy, and generosity in their willingness to help others. These practices and values are the cornerstones of evaluation.
This simple way of choosing a leader in the past indicates that the evaluation has long been a way of life here in Bhutan. Somehow, we have failed to integrate this important essence of our society into the everyday functioning of our present system. This indigenous culture and understanding have been diluted over the years and perhaps the word evaluation has been misconceived.
I have always been fascinated by the concept of evaluation; I see it as a precious package of knowledge that needs careful unpacking, where the context plays an important role. However, I have had enough encounters and experiences to see the kind of efforts needed to dig out the essence of indigenous culture from the rubble of modernisation and our habits of duplicating foreign ideas. Luckily, the Evaluation Association of Bhutan (EAB) supports this effort through its endeavours to develop an evaluation culture in the country.
My journey with the EAB started in 2017 when Bhutan hosted the Regional Evaluation Conclave organised by the Gross National Happiness Commission Secretariat and the Community of Evaluation South Asia. Among the participants were several professionals from the countries in the region. This was my first glimpse into the world of evaluation. However, by the end of two-day conclave, I had collected enough information to conclude that much work is needed to promote the culture of evaluation in Bhutan.
In one incident, evaluation in Bhutanese culture was equated to the fear of being judged after death by Chhoegi Gyalpo, where one’s good deeds and vice versa are spoken for by Lhakarpo and Drenakchung. Although interesting and well-intended, this is a misunderstanding of what evaluation is. Evaluation has nothing to do with good or evil deeds. Rather, evaluation uses every failure and success as lessons to improve and do better in this life.
Some groups also seem to misunderstand evaluation as auditing, fixing responsibility, and evidence gathering etc., which further confirms the lack of understanding about the concept of evaluation.
I am now leading the Evaluation Association of Bhutan (EAB) and we are taking baby steps to develop and promote evaluation culture in Bhutan. My role in EAB is an opportunity for me to contribute to building an evaluation system that complements the Gross National Happiness (GNH) principles of development. This is a journey that starts from the basics of introducing, educating, and informing people about evaluation and thinking through developing evaluation tools of our own that are informed by the local knowledge. Although the GNH policy screening tool ensures the programs and projects in the country are GNH supportive, it does not provide for evaluation, thus the gap exists. The role of evaluation comes in to look at what works and what did not to take learnings to inform future programs and projects in ensuring they align with GNH and stand relevant to people.
I work with a group of volunteers who share a similar vision and understand the need for our own culturally relevant evaluation tools. The biggest hurdle in this journey is to change the mindset of our people, including professionals, implementors or decision makers. We all seem to operate within a culture that is about the relentless duplication of foreign concepts and practices without a care for how relevant those practices are for us and our aspirations. We do not cross-examine what could work and what could not for us and our country. This has made it a challenge even to convince people I work with regularly sometimes; it indeed is a long way to persuade a nation.
Every step is a big struggle but it’s worth it if we want a vibrant evaluation culture that promotes our own aspirations for GNH. Evaluators and institutions in the country both can play important role in realising this aspiration: evaluators be culturally responsive; and organisations being evaluated demand culturally responsive evaluation.
If you are interested in learning more about EAB and our activities, I invite you to visit our website: www.evalbhutan.org, We welcome your constructive feedback.
Phuntsho Choden (PhD)